Every Thursday morning, Kathleen Beggan from Roslea, Co Fermanagh, can be found in the gym at the Lakeland Forum in Enniskillen. Kathleen has always kept fit. Living on a farm means that she is physically active every day. But this gym class is different. This gym class is organised by Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke because in 2013, aged 50, grandmother Kathleen had a stroke.
In September 2013, Kathleen was umpiring a match at Drumragh GAA. Her daughter Cliona, who was 11 at the time, was playing. When she’d picked Cliona up after school, Kathleen had commented to her daughter that her head felt very heavy. But Kathleen remembers nothing of the day or the match.
When the match ended, Kathleen was telling friends about the 30 mile cycle she and Cliona had completed the previous day, and how Cliona’s legs were sore but she herself felt no ill effects. As she said goodbye and turned to walk away, she collapsed. As she lay there unresponsive, an ambulance was called and other friends took Cliona away to make her some tea.
Kathleen says, “I was very lucky I had the stroke where I did and not alone on the farm. Drumragh is in a rural area and doesn’t have a full postcode, so when my friends called the ambulance, it was not easy to describe where to go. Thankfully someone at the ambulance station knew exactly where the club was and he came with the ambulance. By the time my friends had reached the main road to flag the ambulance down, it was already arriving. It took just 6 minutes.
Kathleen was taken to the South-West Acute Hospital where she had thrombolysis. She was kept in hospital for two weeks. At first she had no idea who her husband was but she asked after Cliona over and over again.
If the stroke was a shock, more was to come. During an MRI scan on Kathleen’s brain, doctors discovered that she had suffered seven previous undiagnosed TIAs. A Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) is another name for a mini-stroke and is often a warning sign that a full stroke is on its way. At the time, Kathleen did not know she was having the TIAs but looking back she can pinpoint when some of them happened.
“There are a couple of times I remember,” Kathleen explains, “but the one which really sticks in my mind is when I was shopping in Lisnaskea with my mother-in-law. We were crossing a busy road and suddenly I started to fall. Cars were coming at us, and my mother-on-law had to catch me and almost carry me across the road.
“At the time I didn’t know the symptoms were serious as they came and went quite quickly. But now I want people to know that you have get medical help when you have TIA symptoms as they are a warning sign you could have a full stroke.”
The stroke has left Kathleen with memory problems. She explains, “The stroke did not affect my mobility or speech. It was in a part of the brain called the hippocampus so my memory has been affected and I suffer from fatigue. Sometimes my memory is normal and sometimes I forget. I can go into a shop and just stand there, unable to recall what I went in for. It is very embarrassing as people just look at me as if I am stupid. They don’t understand what has happened to me.”
After her stroke Kathleen joined an NICHS group. “I was used to keeping very fit so after my stroke I went swimming with my other daughter. My daughter was overheard saying how I was now afraid of doing different things. Thankfully it was a doctor who overheard her and so told her about NICHS. Ten days later I received a visit from Stroke Family Support and started to attend the group that meets at the Lakeland Forum The groups are great. You meet other people who allow you to put your own stroke and its effects in context.”
Thankfully Kathleen has not been affected physically. So when she saw that Todd’s Leap was organising a 5k mud run, Get to Muck, to raise money for Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke, she was wanted to take part. “I am determined that the stroke will not get in the way of what I want to do. Get to Muck was a real challenge but I finished it in just under 1.5 hours. I really enjoyed it. It was a great achievement and I was able to raise money for NICHS. The support NICHS has given me is invaluable. Their groups allow you to meet other stroke survivors. You are able to learn from them, and when you are at the group, you don’t need to explain yourself. Everyone understands the effect the stroke has had on you.”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.