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Picture of Olivia who survived an ischaemic stroke at just 28

Olivia’s Story – Ischaemic stroke aged 28

Picture of Olivia who survived an ischaemic stroke at just 28

My name is Olivia and I’m from Newcastle upon Tyne. I had my stroke in January 2023 and I was 28 years old at the time. Life before my stroke involved going to the gym around five times a week, swimming and doing weights. I would walk a lot, meet up with friends and I worked a full-time job.

In the lead up to my stroke I had been having episodes of blurred vision; I wouldn’t be able to see properly, and this would last around 20 minutes, sometimes followed with a small headache. I was a little worried about this so booked a doctor’s appointment. I saw a GP on the Friday, who did some checks and suggested that it was most likely migraines and gave me some medication in case I felt like one was coming on. I didn’t collect this medication due to it being late on a Friday. I met up with family and friends over the weekend and had a long walk on the Sunday.

On the Monday morning I got up for work as usual and made my way in. I have my breakfast at work at my desk with a coffee, and just after I had finished, I remember feeling particularly cold and I thought a cup of green tea might warm me up. As I went to reach for my cup I had just made, all of a sudden I couldn’t move my left arm and hand. I tried again and again – it was the strangest feeling, I knew what I wanted to do, but my hand/arm was just curling in on itself and I had no ability to move or grip. I then started to feel tingling in the left of my face and the left of my body felt totally strange.

I turned to my colleague and said “I can’t move my arms”. I remember beginning to panic and felt an overwhelming feeling of emotion. She told me to calm down that I was OK to breathe, and I said “I think I’m having a stroke”. The rest of my team around me were brilliant they recognised something wasn’t right and immediately took me to straight to A&E. In hospital I was seen by the triage team pretty fast. I thought from there I would have to wait hours to see a doctor, but within minutes a nurse and doctor took me into a room and explained they were from the stroke unit and wanted to do some checks. They both suggested that to them it would seem as I thought I was having a really bad migraine, but I stated that I had never had migraines before and I explained about the blurred vision I had been having for weeks.

They requested a CT scan and MRI to rule out stroke. I had my CT and broke down; I was so worried and felt so out of control. The doctor informed me my CT looked normal and again reassured me he didn’t think it was a stroke, but the MRI would double check this. I went down for my MRI and within a minute of being back on the ward, 8 medical staff came into my room including the doctor who informed me “unfortunately Olivia you have had a Stroke”, I just remember beginning to cry – “Am I going to be OK? Will I die?” I remember asking.

Everything was a blur, they explained to me about thrombolysis, as I was still minutes within the four hour window. It was a treatment they could do to attempt and break down the clot in my head. They explained to me it was my choice, and discussed the risks that this came with, but also the risks if I didn’t have this done. I was so terrified in these moments and didn’t want to make a choice. They began thrombolysis straight away and I was hooked up onto lots of machines and wires. I had nurses and doctors with me heavily for the next 24 hours. Over the next few days, I had lots of physio for my arm and more scans of my heart, head and neck until I was discharged.

Following my discharge, I had outpatient appointments for heart checks and stroke follow ups. I was also put onto a blood thinning medication called clopidogrel. Following a TOE (transesophageal echocardiogram) they discovered I had a hole in my heart, commonly known as a PFO (patent foramen ovale).

When I received this news I was partly relieved. I was really struggling to come to terms with there being no real reason as to why I had a stroke, especially when I kept myself healthy and active.

It has been around a year now since my stroke and over this year I have regained good movement back in my arm, and physically appear OK, but there are so many other ongoing effects of stroke I continue to tackle, including extreme fatigue, tremors, sound and vision issues, numbness, severe anxiety, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), tinnitus and cognitive difficulties. I find people look at me and see someone who looks physically OK and therefore find it hard to comprehend the invisible side effects.

My stroke has really changed me as a person, it’s affected me so much and I struggle truly to speak to anyone who understands. I have lost so much confidence and independence. It’s been one of the loneliest times of my life. Thankfully my work have been amazing and gave me access to a therapist; something I would have had to wait 18 months for more for on the NHS and would not have been able to afford privately. I have felt so many emotions, and even guilty that this has happened. I feel a burden to others and frustrated at times. I also find myself what I can only describe as grieving for my old self.

But my experience has also shown me my strength as a person, the importance of surrounding yourself with kind people and made me refocus on what I want my future to look like. I am so very grateful to all the medical staff who got me through that day and every day after that. Time is the best healer and some days are easier than others. If I could give advice to anyone it would be to let yourself feel every emotion you need to – and take your time working through it all.

Picture of Olivia who survived an ischaemic stroke at just 28

My next steps are waiting for a surgery date to close my PFO – another challenge I will face, but one I know will strengthen my recovery. I also hope to be able to start living independently again and continue to build up to working full time.

I would say there is a significant lack of support for young stroke in the North East where I live. Most of my outpatients appointments have been in ‘elderly medicine’ units. I have struggled cognitively and had hoped for a referral to the neuropsychology team, but this is not something my hospital offered.

A doctor mentioned Different Strokes to me and it’s been extremely helpful to read others stories and seek advice on the support pages. It’s truly been the one place I’ve felt a little less lonely these past 12 months!

Your donation helps others like Olivia on their journeys

There are 100,000 strokes in the UK each year with 1 in 4 happening to somebody of working age or younger. Different Strokes aims to promote independent stroke recovery and help these younger stroke survivors reclaim their lives.

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