Linda Black lives life to the full! Despite living with injuries from a horrific car crash, disabilities resulting from a stroke and now the pain caused by polymyalgia, Linda has a busy social life, travels frequently and makes sure she gets out every day.
Linda had always been very healthy, never taking a day off sick. But in 2001 she was involved in a horrific car crash which left her with permanent injuries and the other party with a conviction. In the crash, her left arm was almost totally severed and she now has to wear a strapping to support it as the bones are very weak where they were snapped in two.
The car crash, rehabilitation and three year wait for the court case took its toll on her health. Optimistic and upbeat though she is, Linda believes the car crash was the start of her problems.
One Sunday morning in 2010, Linda was in her living room when she realised she had “lost” two hours of time. She assumed she had fallen asleep but she was left with what she describes as a ‘funny feeling’, unlike the feeling of having simply drifted off.
Monday and Tuesday passed uneventfully. On Wednesday, however, Linda knew something was wrong. She didn’t feel right. She was sitting in her favourite armchair when she had a strange sensation on the right hand side of her face. She then realised she could not move her right hand side. She called her doctor who came out immediately.
Linda remembers, “My GP told me ‘I think you have had a little stroke’ but as it had passed, I was referred to the TIA clinic rather than the emergency department.”
Linda is unsure whether the stroke that she experienced was a TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack), also known as a mini stroke, or whether it was a full, though slight, stroke. The symptoms went away, which is the definition of a mini stroke, but she was left with lasting effects, which you get with a full stroke.
She was referred to the TIA clinic and received very good care from the staff there, the hospital, the community stroke teams and Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. She is the Treasurer of the Craigavon and Banbridge Young Stroke Group and is heavily involved in arranging activities alongside the NICHS stroke co-ordinator, Lynn McIlroy.
Since the stroke, Linda has been diagnosed with polymyalgia, which causes her a lot of pain. The stroke has left her with some right sided weakness. Unfortunately the car crash in 2001 damaged her left arm so this means now both arms are weakened. She also has limited mobility and cannot walk far.
In addition to the mobility issues, her bladder was also affected by the stroke and until recently this had a huge impact on her life. Linda chuckles, though, as she recounts how this has been greatly improved by Botox injections. “The doctor said to me – ‘you could do with some Botox’ ”, she recalls, stroking her remarkably unlined forehead as she speaks. “I assumed it was for my face and asked her if she thought I was starting to look my age. ‘No’, said the doctor, ‘not for your face. For your bladder!’ ” The treatment has been very successful, eradicating the problems for the 4-5 month duration each treatment lasts. It has made a world of a difference.
Linda is on medication to reduce her risk of a full stroke. Despite this, she has continued to have TIAs. She can feel them starting in the right hand side of her head. She does not know what brings them on, but now that she recognises the symptoms, she calls for medical help when she needs to. She also makes sure that those around her know what could happen. “I even had one TIA at the stroke group,” she remembers. “We were doing Tai Chi and I just slid off my seat into the floor. No one panicked though. In the group, we have all experienced these things. We all know the drill and what to do.”
Not that the side effects of a stroke stop Linda! This is not a tale of someone who has allowed her health to limit her. As we chatted about her trips around Ireland with her group of friends, the hotel mini-breaks, visits to tourist attractions, the gym and swimming classes, she casually mentioned, “I’m currently planning my 23rd trip to Australia.” Linda’s son and his family live in Australia so she travels there at least once a year. She has even been upgraded to First Class and has travelled alongside Kylie Minogue, met Hugh Jackman and been serenaded by Michael Bublé!
Her message to anyone who has experienced a mini stroke is to know the symptoms and how they affect your body and be ready to seek medical attention when necessary. And for those who have had a stroke, she would encourage people to make the most of their lives. “Don’t just sit back and give up on life. Get out there. Do things. Enjoy life. Of course, understand your capabilities, but don’t give up. You have been given another chance at life. Grab it with both hands!”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.