Margaret Robb, from Ballykinler in Co Down, knows at first hand how stroke devastates lives.
Like most people, Margaret – who suffered her stroke in February 2012 – knew about some of the physical effects of the condition. But she wasn’t prepared for the effect on the mind.
First, however, she had to endure a medical drama.
When Margaret was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital immediately after her stroke, she was given an MRI scan. It failed to identify the location of the blood clot. But then a doctor felt her neck and discovered that she had suffered a tear in the lining of the carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain. She was given warfarin to thin the blood until the artery healed. She suffered weakness down the left side of her body. To this day, she is unable to use her left arm, although she can walk short distances. Mostly, though, she uses a motorised wheelchair.
“The thermostat in my brain was also damaged,” says Margaret. “This means that cold water on the skin on my left side causes intense pain. I have to cover my left hand when it rains.” She also yawns constantly – another effect of the brain damage caused by the stroke.
Nothing, however, prepared her for what happened when she left hospital.
“I was so down and so low that, mentally, I had nowhere lower to go,” says Margaret. “I wasn’t even going out of the house. I just sat there all day and stared at the four walls. I don’t know how I would have ended up. All I know is that things couldn’t have got any worse. Then I was put in contact with Nacola King from Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke. The doctors saved my life physically, but NI Chest Heart & Stroke saved it mentally.”
Margaret cried throughout her first meeting with Nacola. But eventually she agreed to give the Downpatrick Stroke Scheme a try. The scheme offers support, therapy and activities. The friendship and activities have relieved her depression and helped her build up self–confidence, which also often takes a battering after a person has suffered a stroke.
Nacola and the other helpers in the group now know Margaret so well that they can spot when she is feeling low and ask her to talk about it. She also enjoys regular visits from her grandchildren and great nephew.
She says: “Until you suffer a stroke, you’re unlikely to hear about the work of NICHS’s Stroke Schemes, but I know from my own experience how valuable they are. I would like to emphasize how dedicated and supportive the staff and volunteers of the group I go to. I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again. Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke saved my life.”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.