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Acting fast helped me be a stroke survivor

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Stroke victim Karen Donoghue. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Stroke victim Karen Donoghue. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Stroke victim Karen Donoghue. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

THIS is The Irish Heart Foundation F.A.S.T. awareness week and with studies showing that one in five of us will suffer a stroke in our lifetimes, the need to be aware of the danger signs is more vital than ever.

TV presenter Andrew Marr has said he feels "lucky to be alive" following his stroke in January, which was brought on by overwork and rigorous exercise. Here, one young Dublin woman describes the trauma she endured when she fell victim.

Karen Donoghue is a 30-year-old accountant living in Whitehall, Dublin 9. She was always blessed with perfect health and lived with friends until two years ago when after a night out, her suspected hangover turned out to be something a lot more dangerous.

Karen is just one of the many young people who are taken completely unawares by a potentially crippling stroke. Luckily for the Dublin woman, the swift action of her family members and GP meant that she received the right medical help to ensure that, after a lengthy struggle, she has returned to her able- bodied former self.

"One Saturday night in August 2011, I went out with some friends for a few drinks," recalls Karen who lives with her parents Margaret and Patrick. "When I woke the following morning, I felt dreadful as if I had the most terrible hangover. But I couldn't figure out why as I didn't really have much to drink.

 

"That evening I went out to dinner and my left hand started to feel numb. My friends and I thought it was something to do with the hangover and although it was a bit weird, we didn't think too much about it and I drove home afterwards. I remember telling my housemate and the two of us laughing at how a hangover could cause someone to have a numb hand.

"But the following morning I felt even worse and had pins and needles in my left leg. I tried walking around but I couldn't get rid of it and I also felt really dizzy. I rang my Mam and jokingly said to her that I might be having a stroke and she told me to come around to her house and she would take me to see the doctor."

When Karen was examined by her GP, he got her to undertake a few basic tests and although she passed them all, he was concerned enough to refer her to casualty.

"I was a bit embarrassed when I was able to do all the stroke tests the doctor asked me to do, but he thought I should go to hospital and get checked out," says Karen. "So I went to A&E in the Mater and had some more tests done – again, I passed them all, but doctors said although they didn't think I was having a stroke, I should have a CT scan just in case.

"But while I was waiting I deteriorated even further and they decided that I should be kept in and sent for an MRI in the morning – by which time I was completely paralysed down the left-hand-side of my body.

"The MRI revealed that I had suffered a mild stroke and I was put on Heparin and went into the special care unit for six days, after which I was sent down to the Stroke Ward. By that time I could wiggle my toes and move my arm a little bit, but I stayed in that unit for a further two weeks and was then transferred to the NRH (National Rehabilitation Hospital).

"I felt 90pc fine and apart from walking with a slight limp, I had no other side effects. After a week at the NRH, I was allowed home for the weekend and on the Saturday night I began to feel really tired and sick and the left hand side of my head went numb.

"I rang my brother David (she also has an older sister, Lynette) and asked him to come and collect me and bring me to Mam's house. When I got there, she rang the ambulance which took me to the Mater and doctors there thought I was having a reaction to the blood-thinning medicine.

"But after a series of tests and a CT scan, I was sent back to the Stroke Ward and booked in for another MRI on the Monday. But just before the scan, my body began to feel strange and I suddenly slumped over in the chair I was sitting in – this is when my second stroke happened.

"I was taken down for the MRI but I couldn't talk or move properly. By the Thursday, the left side of my face had crumpled and I wasn't able to move at all. I don't really remember much about that week but I know I was referred to Beaumount for an angiogram and was in a really bad way so I was put into the High Dependency Unit (HDU) where I was monitored very closely as there was the risk that I might have another stroke."

Unable to speak, eat or move her body, Karen was under constant observation and after 10 days was referred to the Special Care Unit where she spent the next 48 days.

 

"My blood pressure was very low so I was put on a drip to try and increase the pressure," she says. "The physiotherapist came every day but it was a very long process and I remember that there wasn't even a TV in the room, so I nearly went insane with boredom.

"I was weaned off the drip and had further scans and tests. There was talk of me needing surgery to connect a blood vessel into the brain so the blood could flow properly, but after another angiogram, they decided it wasn't necessary.

"Finally, after a total of five months in the Mater, I was moved to the NRH where I spent Christmas and New Year. I felt sorry for myself as I spent New Year's Eve in hospital drinking non-alcoholic wine.

"I was discharged from the NRH in March 2012 and was sent home with a crutch and a wheelchair, but I used every opportunity to practise walking while the wheelchair remained in the shed."

Today, Karen is back at work and feels lucky to have recovered so well after her lengthy ordeal.

"I have improved greatly and I am almost completely back to normal. My cognitive side is 99pc recovered but I sometimes have a little trouble remembering things.

"My employers have been fantastic and kept my job open for me. But one of the side effects of a stroke is epilepsy and I have had two seizures, one of which was at work.

"I have recovered from the experience and am back to my healthy self; thanks to the quick action of my doctor who sent me to hospital as a precaution and also to my parents, particularly my mam who won carer of the year award from the Irish Heart Foundation last year for all the help she has given me.

"Thanks to them all and my boyfriend Shane, I am in a really good place now."

ROAD TO RECOVERY:

Karen Donoghue has battled back to health after a stroke. BBC presenter Andrew Marr (inset right) was also hit by a stroke


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