Just a few months ago, 35 year–old Clodagh Dunlop was unable to move or speak after suffering a massive stroke and developing Locked–in Syndrome.
But this week she goes to meet other stroke survivors taking part in a unique programme designed to improve their long–term recovery.
The Post Rehab Exercise Programme (PREP) – developed by NI Chest Heart & Stroke in conjunction with stroke teams in the Southern Trust – is being rolled out across Northern Ireland. Stroke survivors can join it when their rehabilitation provided by the Health Service ends.
PREP starts in Clodagh’s home town, Magherafelt, in January. But before then she is being given a preview of what she can expect, when she visits the programme at the Neurokinex Rehab Centre in Antrim.
Her long–term goal is to run four miles every day, as she used to, and to get back to work as a police officer. At the moment she is still learning to walk again at Musgrave Park Hospital, but she hopes to go home soon.
Of her Locked–in Syndrome she says: “I could see my family and my partner, Adrian, were upset and I wanted to reassure them, but I couldn’t do anything. You are a prisoner in your own body.”
Describing the effects of stroke, she adds: “I’ve had to somewhat mourn my own death. The person who I was is still inside me, but I’ve had to accept that I’ll never be that person again. I have to let go of her. But I have learned a lot about humility and compassion.”
NI Chest Heart & Stroke’s evaluation of the PREP programme shows that its package of exercise and advice benefits participants physically, emotionally and socially. People’s self–belief improves and they report having a better quality of life. It has been running in the Belfast and South Eastern Trust since January and began in the Northern Trust two months ago. It starts soon in the Western Trust.
Noelene Hughes, who has been co–ordinating the roll out of the programme across Northern Ireland, says: “It’s appropriate that Clodagh’s first visit to PREP takes place on World Stroke Day, October 29. The theme this year is Women and Stroke. We hope to show her that, with determination, perseverance and support, it’s possible to make a good recovery even from a stroke as severe as hers.”