Tracey from Greencastle, Omagh had only celebrated her 30th birthday 10 days before having a stroke. She had no history of illness or high blood pressure and in hindsight the only sign was that she had had a persistent headache for a few days. But being a busy young mum, she didn’t think anything of it.
But in an instant, Tracey’s life changed. She went to click on the kettle and her arm went numb and wouldn’t work. At first she thought it was a trapped nerve but then it dawned on her that something more serious was going on. But it still didn’t occur to her that she was having a stroke as she thought strokes only happened to older people.
In fact, Tracey had suffered a dense stroke which has left her with left side weakness and muscle spasms. She was in hospital for 4 weeks. Once she got home she noticed how much her life had changed. She went from being very active and sporty to having to learn how to use her left leg again – she literally had to remember to bring it along with her when she walked. Tracey found the speed of her physical recovery very difficult to come to terms with. She thought she would just be able to work hard and get back to how she was before. It really frustrated her when it didn’t happen as easily as that.
Tracey’s big motivation was her daughter Rachel, who was only 9 at the time. Tracey’s stroke didn’t just affect her– it affected her whole family. In the early days, Rachel didn’t want to leave Tracey’s side and because she was unsure about the future, that rubbed off on Rachel too. It was also hard for Tracey’s parents to accept that their child had had a stroke, and it was difficult for them that there were questions that Tracey had which they, as her parents, just couldn’t answer.
Marie, NICHS’s Stroke Family Support Co–ordinator first visited Tracey at home and instantly Tracey realised she had met someone she could talk to, someone who could help answer the questions she had. Marie was able to explain what had happened to her and how a stroke affects all aspects of life. Tracey had been focussing on her physical rehabilitation and Marie encouraged her to also think about the emotional, mental, social and practical impacts of her stroke too.
Marie encouraged Tracey to take part in one of NICHS’s Taking Control programmes. She was by far the youngest there but still really enjoyed it because she was able to meet people who had been through the same things. The Programme encourages you to set yourself goals and Tracey’s goals were to take part in and then organise her own fundraising events for NICHS. Less than a year after her stroke, Tracey organised a St.Patrick’s weekend of events which raised £3,500!
Tracey says, “My aim is now to raise awareness that, although stroke is often considered an older person’s illness, young people are affected by stroke too. My message is that with the help and support of NICHS’s Stroke Family Support service, and a positive attitude, there is life beyond stroke.”
Find out more about the stroke support that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offers.