Before my stroke I worked in various pubs and clubs in my local area. I began to have seizures in my sleep, but the hospital kept on sending me home saying I was sleepwalking. But on one visit and by chance a neurologist came to see someone else while I was there, and the hospital asked if they could just take a look at this one scan. I’ll almost never forget his words “Walton (Hospital) now!” – I was 24 years old when I had my haemorrhagic stroke.
I was very lucky my stroke happened shortly after and when I was actually in Walton Hospital. It was while they were prepping me for theatre I haemorrhaged. My large Occipital Parietal AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation) had popped. I was haemorrhaging for eighty minutes before they managed to stop the bleeding. As a result, I have been left partially sighted, which was very difficult to adjust to in the beginning. However, over time I have adjusted to living like this.
If it was not for my hero, Professor Bob Rafal, I dread to think where I would be today. I remember being in the North Wales Brain Injury Services, feeling very helpless, frustrated, scared and confused. “Why did this happen to me?” and “I never hurt anyone!” were some of the thoughts that kept on going through my head.
Recovery is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was a mother to two young children; a four-year-old son, and the six-month-old baby girl. My left arm was in the typical ‘stroke position’. It was extremely difficult to change and look after my baby and I’d often forget her name for a very long time!
My mother informed me that people used to approach us in the streets and ask me how old my baby was. They’d ask, “what’s her name?” – and I did not know. I always used to have to turn to my mum and ask these questions.
I have lost the ability to properly and accurately recall information. However, I am able to overcome this by the use of my assistive technology. This means, I was able to attend university, which was something I would have never thought was possible. I have shared my experiences at The Welsh Assembly in Cardiff for Headway UK and in London at The Royal Society of Medicine. I graduated last year from Bangor University, with a BSc (Hons) in Neuropsychology. I am now currently in the middle of my MSc with one of my heroes Rudi Coetzer. I first met him whilst I was a patient of the North Wales Brain Injury Services over 10 years ago. Since then, I have won various awards at University, and have even been nominated recently for the national Headway award for my dedication to help others with a brain injury. I’m extremely honoured to be working on a project with him and one of his PhD students.
I am honoured to have survived and to be surrounded by such inspirational people, who have motivated me and pushed me to my limits every day.
Hopefully one day I aim to complete a PhD and to help others in a similar situation to my own. I can truly empathise, understand and appreciate the difficulties people experience after a stroke.
My advice to someone who has recently had a stroke is to never, ever give up. As the saying goes: “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” (It’s tattooed on my arm).