Mother of three, Joanne Kelly from Newtownabbey, suffered a brain haemorrhage when she was in her late 30s. The bleed on her brain was so severe that her family were told she would not survive and she was being kept alive by machines.
Fortunately after a lot of rehabilitation she has since recovered but the after effects of the stroke have taken a toll on her that is both invisible and long lasting.
Joanne was in her late 30s and had just received a post graduate diploma from Queens University Belfast in Social Research. She was looking forward to beginning a Masters in the same subject. All of this had to stop one evening when her partner noticed something about her that was highly unusual.
Joanne tells us, “It happened on 31 August. My partner came up to bed. He knew from my breathing something was wrong. My face had dropped and I was unresponsive. He called 999.
“By the time the ambulance arrived my face had come back up but I was disorientated and couldn’t walk. The paramedics were convinced I had taken a drug overdose and they gave me charcoal via a tube before taking me to hospital which lost me some time unfortunately.
“When I was taken to Antrim Area Hospital, I was unconscious and a machine was breathing for me. I think when they saw the size of the bleed on my brain the doctors assumed I wouldn’t be able to recover and the doctors told my children and family I was dead.
“My family were led into my room to say goodbye to me before they turned the machine off. As my daddy gave me a kiss on the forehead he leant on my breathing tube and I coughed. Clearly my reflexes were still working which was a big indication that I wasn’t dead yet!
“I was then quickly moved from Antrim to the Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital for immediate brain surgery to relive the pressure on my brain. I remember nothing about my time at the Royal.”
When Joanne was discharged from ICU she was sent to Musgrave Park Hospital where she stayed for over 3 months to continue her recovery. She didn’t leave Musgrave until the middle of December.
“In the hospital I was working with the speech and occupational therapists. it took me months to learn the day to day things which you don’t think about normally like how to walk and dress myself again. This was all made worse because I had lost feeling in the left side of my body. But once I was discharged from the hospital I was on my own.”
Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke got in touch with Joanne when she left Musgrave Park Hospital. She tells us about her first impressions. “They offered me a place on the Post Rehab Exercise Programme (PREP). I wasn’t sure what to expect at first and I delayed but now I wish I had started sooner.”
PREP is a physio-led, community based programme which helps rebuild people’s lives and confidence following a stroke, through exercise and education.
Joanne really enjoyed the sessions “The programme got me both physically and socially active. We met weekly for 6 weeks and it was a great social gathering as well as a learning experience. Looking back on it I really enjoyed my time at PREP because I didn’t have to explain myself. It was the first time I was in a room with other people who knew about strokes. Talking to someone where you don’t have to explain problems can make a real difference. You tell them ‘I’ve had a stroke’ and straight away they know the problems you’ve had.
“The programme gave me more confidence and there are still things I’m overcoming on the mental side of things but compared to some stroke survivors I’m doing very well.”
She concludes “It’s great having these resources for free for people to use. Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke do a great service and free of charge to the service users.
“Before PREP my tendency was to stay indoors, I’ve used it as an excuse to get out and start talking to other people with the same condition as me.
“These days I’m keeping myself busy with my family and some short courses through college. PREP helped me get back on my feet once I left hospital and I would definitely recommend it.”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.