Monday 26 August 2019

Stroke left Irishwoman only able to blink but now she can walk after beating locked-in syndrome

Policewoman (35) back on her feet after beating locked-in syndrome

Clodagh Dunlop leaves Musgrave Park Hospital with her partner Adrian Campbell
Clodagh Dunlop leaves Musgrave Park Hospital with her partner Adrian Campbell

Victoria O'Hara

Seven months ago Clodagh Dunlop was a prisoner in her own body, paralysed and only able to blink to communicate to loved ones.

In emotional scenes yesterday the 35-year-old - who suffered a massive life-threatening stroke in April - walked out of Musgrave Park Hospital to finally go home. She had finished her last physiotherapy session and was officially discharged.

With each step taken the inspirational woman from Co Londonderry showed she had beaten locked-in syndrome.

In an emotional interview, Clodagh spoke of how she reached her goal of walking out unaided and how she is now looking forward to living her life to the fullest.

Before taking those milestone steps she wiped away tears of joy, excited to be making the journey home. Her partner of three years Adrian Campbell - who she has praised as "amazing" - walked over to her and quietly asked: "Do you want to go home?"

Kissing him on the cheek and with a beaming smile she said "yes". After standing up - supported only with a walking stick - she hugged members of dedicated staff who helped her during the difficult journey of rehabilitation.

Doctors discovered she had a clot and suffered a brain stem stroke, and her family were told to prepare for the worst.

After the stroke she had awoken in intensive care unable to move but only started to show signs of improvement in May.

The locked-in syndrome left her utterly frustrated and "internally screaming" having to watch her worried, and at times upset, family talk to her while she was unable to communicate in return.

Through sheer determination and support from the medical team she regained her speech, learned to sit on her own and is standing again with the aid of a standing frame. But walking was the major goal she set herself.

"I've been so excited. I've gone from being locked-in, completely paralysed, just blinking with my eyes, to trying to take a few steps out of Musgrave, and then commencing my journey home," she said.

Asked how she looks back on the last number of months, she paused and said: "I'm tremendously grateful from going from just being able to blink my eyes and not being able to move any part of my body to now being able to talk.

"I can make gestures and small movements. I'm amazed at how far I've come."

The Magherafelt woman praised the dedicated medical staff who say their patient has become "like family".

"The staff have just blown me away. I was a police officer and I would have said I had learned to be kind and patient and compassionate but the nurses here have taught me a new level of being kind, being compassionate," she said.

"They have shown me tremendous patience and I've given them a name, my blue angels."

Among the 'blue angels' who waved her goodbye was Caroline Malone, ward sister at Musgrave Park Hospital.

"I met her as a patient coming onto the ward, from the very beginning until leaving today," she said. "She has built up such a wonderful rapport with the other staff. She has become like one of the family now. The nurses and team have built up such a rapport with Clodagh and her family.

"It has been an amazing journey right from the very beginning to now leaving today. It was a very emotional today.

"There were tears on the ward this morning and there have been tears among all the therapy staff as well because there has been such a big input in relation to Clodagh's recovery."

Despite her amazing strength, Clodagh admits there were times when she struggled to beat locked-in but her faith helped her remain positive even during the darkest moments.

"There were a couple of days here in Musgrave where I was just asking, 'Why has this happened to me?' It is a very difficult journey," she said.

"I just wanted to be able to walk. I wanted to be able to talk. It was frustrating.

"Then I just looked around and thought, 'God has given you so much'. There are so many other people who would love to make the sounds I make and move the way I can. And you just realise there are a lot of people worse off and who would give anything just to have half of what you have."

The journey has been a rollercoaster but her last day at physiotherapy proved to be particularly poignant for Clodagh and her sister Diane. "In my last session I got to show my sister me taking a few small steps and it was highly emotional. She was there the day that I took my massive stroke so it was just so nice to show her just how far I've come. It's a huge milestone."

Now she is looking to the future.

"I think I started to stand up in August but I know I have a lot further to go and I know my walking is not elegant, it is not graceful but it is a start and I really feel the potential and I know I will have to work a lot harder.

"After today I'm getting discharged and I'm starting the next chapter in my journey, hopefully to develop my walking and become a lot more confident and a lot more capable of doing that independently. In the future I would love to return to work - I love my job. I'd also like to raise awareness that a stroke can happen at any age and that although there is a stereotypical profile we need to get rid of that."

Her positive attitude is down to the support from family, friends and Adrian, she said.

"I think a lot of people wonder how I stay strong. The staff in here would have asked how. But my partner Adrian has been tremendous.

"My sister Diane has been doing all the other small things that made me feel feminine, like making sure my eyebrows were plucked, my legs were shaved," she said.

Throughout her journey she has received thousands of messages of support from around the world after charting her recovery through her Facebook site.

"My family and friends have just been wonderful. It makes you that bit more determined to make them proud. Everyone is willing me on."

Explaining the reason for starting the site and opening up about her journey she said: "When I was in the Royal (Victoria Hospital) I was so conscious that a lot of my family and friends just wanted to know how I was progressing.

"I remember saying to Adrian and my sister I wanted to activate my Facebook. At the start they were quite reluctant because they knew I was locked-in but I felt sure I would progress.

"They would have typed my messages but now I can do that myself. It has surprised me. It has been overwhelming the support I have received and the kindness people have shown. I could never have imagined it."

In the moments before she left hospital, Clodagh walked to a waiting car outside to the sounds of cheers and claps from the nurses delighted at what she has accomplished.

Smiling, she sat in the passenger seat and gave a thumbs up at the thought of starting her new life.

"It's the next step in what will be a long journey - but I can't wait to begin it," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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