Life changed overnight for Jacinta McCullough from Holywood when she suffered a stroke after being involved in a minor car accident last year.
Unluckily for her, it was a Pontine stroke, which occurs right at the base of the brain in an area densely packed with nerves that carry signals to the rest of the body.
She says: “Pontine strokes are very rare and people usually don’t survive. The stroke team at the Ulster Hospital was wonderful. I spent two weeks there and three weeks in Bangor Hospital, where I was also looked after very well. At first I had no power on either side but my left side came back quickly. I was determined to relearn things and to get home. The visits of the occupational therapists and the physiotherapists when I finally returned home were a great help.”
But many survivors describe stroke as a thief – and it steals more than the power of the limbs. It can also be psychologically damaging. Depression is common.
“Maureen Boyle, the Stroke Family Co-ordinator from Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke visited me at home, too,” says Jacinta. “She was very empathetic. She asked me if I was depressed, which I was, and if I resented the stroke, which I did. She had the ability to see through the façade of “I’m fine, I’m happy”. She managed to break through and for the first time I was able to admit how difficult I was finding it.
“People who have a long-term illness tend to put on a front. They try not to be as disabled or unwell as they really are, and they get distressed very easily. It’s difficult for family members to understand completely because they haven’t been through it. It’s not that they don’t care, but it’s difficult to comprehend the damage it does if it hasn’t happened to you. It’s true: “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”
“Maureen was able to see that I was much more upset than I was pretending to be. With her gentle encouragement and my daughter’s insistence, I took part in one of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s programmes for stroke survivors. The leader, Pauline, continued the work of gently breaking down the barriers. Maureen and Pauline were able to get through the façade that we all have. They were very empathetic and patient and were able to understand how I was really feeling.”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.