A stroke can happen in an instant but the effects can last a lifetime. Eleven years ago life dealt me a blow that I wasn’t expecting. The story I have written about what happened to me on that day and the weeks and months that followed shows why I now make the most of what life has to offer, why I have done more in the last eleven years then I ever did before and why I grab every opportunity that comes my way. “On January 1st 2008 I woke up feeling very unwell. Over the next day my health deteriorated. I became increasingly sick and collapsed on the floor having lost the ability to walk. I was informed that I was suffering from a middle ear infection. During the night I experienced severe pain down the right side of my neck and face. As I took a sip of water I realized that I had lost the ability to swallow as the water came out of my nose. By that time my speech had begun to slur and I had lost all feeling down the left side of my body. The doctor visited me and admitted me to hospital straight away. That day and the week that followed is still very much of a blur to me. After a MRI scan and a CT scan I was told that one of the arteries in my neck had dissected causing blood supply to my brain to be affected and I had suffered a stroke. I only found out recently that my parents were told by a specialist that day that the following couple of days were going to be crucial. People can suffer a second stroke soon after. Luckily for me, this did not happen.One thing I remember was the horrendous headaches I endured on a daily basis, even being moved from one ward to another made my body scream with pain. For the first few days I drifted in and out of sleep.The next challenge was to start swallowing again. Water or any type of liquid was impossible. The thought of having a tube stuck up my nose and into my stomach made me determined that I would get those muscles in my throat working as soon as possible. I started with pureed apple (just like baby food), slowly moving on to yogurt and then sandwiches. The concentration that was needed to chew and swallow was enormous and I often choked but we got there in the end. Once I had conquered thicker substances, liquid became easier to swallow. Walking was the next challenge as I had been using my drip to support me to the toilet and back. I will always remember being made to walk down the hospital corridor holding on to one of the Physio staff. My head was spinning as my brain was trying to take in the people walking in and out of doors and past me. I was offered a walking stick but I suppose through vanity (the fact that I was dribbling like a baby and was eating baby food was enough!!!!) I did not want it. Being 29 and having to endure all these things was not easy.Talking about the dribble... I never realized that in the first few days my speech was affected. To me, I was talking perfect sense. My parents told me otherwise. As I couldn’t swallow I was always spitting my saliva into a tissue.After a week in hospital and as soon as I could walk up and down stairs (good foot first) I was allowed home. I had to do everything very slowly. I slept a lot. As a young person suffering a stroke I found it very difficult to find anyone who had been through the same thing as me. Talking to other people who had suffered a stroke helped but they were older than me. After three months off work I returned to work part time and full time after six months. I just wanted to return to ‘normal’ life as quickly as possible. Now I think about it, I can’t help but wonder if I was finding the sentence “I have had a stroke” difficult to accept. I wanted to forget it all ever happened instead of face it and deal with it. But then I started to face another problem. As life returned to normal it became increasingly difficult for people to understand what I was still going through even though I looked and sounded completely normal. Why was I being so miserable? Why didn’t I want to go out? Why did I fall asleep at nine o clock in the evening and not want to get up in the morning? The answer?... because it hurt. I was miserable because of the pain, I didn’t want to go out because of the pain and I fell asleep because I was exhausted, the pain went away and I could forget all about what had happened. But nobody could see the pain and know what was going on in my mind. I was so lucky to be alive but yet I was struggling.The years that followed were incredibly difficult and I found myself in a vicious circle trying to come to terms with what had happened and continue to embrace what life had to offer. Not only had the stroke affected me physically, it begun to affect me very emotionally too. I was young and I was eager to return to my ‘normal’ life as quickly as possible. I wanted to forget the stroke had ever happened. Instead of dealing with it I pushed it aside. I became difficult to be around, I lost an enormous amount of confidence, I found my day to day life difficult to deal with, I stopped enjoying life, I comfort ate and in turn I put on a lot of weight. I turned into a different person and lost who I really was. I am not proud of these things and if I could have realized and changed this quicker, I would have.There was nothing more health professionals could do for me to help me get better.It was only when I reached rock bottom that I decided to do something about it, for me getting better was no longer in the hands of other people. I was taking control. By chance, at the same time (2011) the opportunity to take part in a London to Paris cycle ride with a fellow Stroke Survivor from Jersey (Anthony Lewis) came up. I got in touch with the Stroke Association, signed up for the ride and told them my story. This is when things started getting better, I began to meet people who could understand me and know what I was going through. I started feeling more positive about what life had to offer and I had a goal that I was determined to achieve. "
I am now passionate about raising the profile of the Stroke Association in Jersey and to get the message out that a stroke can happen to anyone, at any age, at any time. Strokes can not only affect you physically but also emotionally too. In my experience there is one resounding message that comes through loud and clear. After suffering a Stroke people need a connection with others who are going through similar experiences. Patients and their loved ones need support, visits, advice and as much information as possible. That is what the Stroke Association offers and that is what enables Stroke victims to become Stroke survivors.Stroke Survivors are all affected in different ways but we all have very much in common. The Stroke survivors I know are the most determined courageous and inspirational people I have ever met. Life for me is looking much brighter now. To anyone who meets me they would never know what I have been through. Eleven years down the line I still have some lasting effects. My nerves are damaged down the left lower side of my body which leaves me with no feeling down that side. I take tablets on a daily basis to thin my blood, I still get incredibly tired, I still suffer headaches, I still struggle with my weight and I still experience an awful lot of pain. My concentration is not as good as it used to be, I cannot read a lot of information in one go and I often forget a word I need to use when having a conversation. I still have challenging days but I refuse to let myself wallow in them and I now know how to deal with them. I have learned to take the rough with the smooth. I listen to my body when it tells me to take it easy and I take every day as they come. I work full time as a Reception teacher to 26 four and five year olds. I continue to look for new ways to challenge myself and I strive to the make the most of what comes my way. I must now turn my negative experience into a positive one. I was incredibly lucky and it is only now that I can say that I am a stroke survivor and not a stroke victim. I have been given a second chance in life and I am determined to grab it with both hands.In the last 7 years I have cycled from London to Paris (2012), worked in an orphanage in Nepal, taught in a local school in Malawi and travelled around California. I completed the Jersey Marathon in 2015. (Bearing in mind that I couldn’t walk very well after mystroke, running was completely out of the question!) I was Deputy Leader of a Jersey Overseas Aid trip to Uganda in 2016 and travelled the West side of Canada in 2017. Last year, to celebrate turning 40 I travelled to Peru and climbed Rainbow Mountain 5,200 m and Machu Picchu Mountain 3061m. Each and every one of these adventures has been amazing.This year's challenge is even more special to me however as in November 2016 my Dad suffered a stroke. It has been a very difficult couple of years for my family and it has brought back a lot of memories for me. I will never forget something my Dad said to me in the early days "If you can do it Nic, so can I" and he has! My Father has shown incredible strength and determination over the last couple of years, learning how to walk again, he continues to amaze me on a daily basis with his ‘can do’ attitude. I am very proud of him!I am also excited to have my eldest brother joining me on the ride this year! I am doing this not just as another personal challenge for myself, but for my Dad and for anyone who has been or will be affected by someone who has suffered a stroke, and especially for those of you who have lost loved ones through a stroke. I would appreciate any donation towards sponsoring me on this cycle ride in aid of the Jersey Stroke Association. There is life after Stroke!Thank you!