A Dundalk woman has joined the Irish Heart Foundation’s ‘Act F.A.S.T’ campaign after she suffered a devastating stroke at just 26-years-old.
Katie Bailey her new husband Joseph had just returned from honeymoon when a stroke and a cancer diagnosis turned their worlds upside down in August 2019.
She had been getting ready to go to work when the first signs of stroke hit. She recalls that she was getting out of the shower when she suddenly realised that she couldn’t wrap her hair in a towel.
“It just wouldn’t work ….I was totally aware of what was happening. I just couldn’t get my hair in the towel,” she said.
The reason for her difficulty was that her right arm had suddenly gone completely numb and was “hanging” paralysed by her side. Katie then realised something was seriously wrong, and that she needed help.
In the minutes it took Katie to go from the bathroom to her bedroom to get her phone, the paralysis had crept down her body taking over her entire right side, she had lost the vision in her right eye and was suffering from a severe headache.
She had also fallen a number of times. Her biggest fear she said was that she would lose consciousness and wouldn’t be found until much later that evening that her husband returned home.
“I was just so afraid,” said Katie
She managed to phone her husband but unfortunately, the stroke was quickly taking over Katie’s brain robbing her of the ability to speak, so her husband could not understand what she was saying, and he presumed it was a bad line.
Katie hung up and phoned her mum who immediately knew something was wrong and suspected that her daughter was having a stroke. When she arrived at Katie’s house, she went through the F.A.S.T. signs with her.
“Mum said that when she came in, she asked me to put my arms up in the air and she said my left arm went straight up and my right arm was just hanging by my side,” Katie recalled.
Katie did not have any facial paralysis however her speech was slurred, so her mother took her straight to the Emergency Department. When she arrived doctors initially put Katie’s symptoms down to a severe migraine due to the fact that she was just 26 and up until her stroke has been fit and healthy.
However, an MRI scan later revealed that Katie had indeed suffered a stroke on the left-hand side of her brain. She was moved to the stroke unit of the hospital where she said was the youngest patient by about 50 years.
Further tests revealed that Katie had a hole in her heart or Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), since birth that had never closed. While this did not necessarily cause Katie’s stroke, her doctors thought it may have been a contributing factor so they wanted to close it to be on the safe side.
Katie was sent to the Mater Hospital in Dublin for treatment to close the hole in her heart and was also fitted with a loop recorder that monitors her heart continuously. A loop recorder is about the same size as a packet of chewing gum and is implanted under the skin in the chest for cardiac monitoring. Katie was also referred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dublin for stroke rehabilitation therapy and was on the road to recovery when she discovered she was expecting her first baby.
However, in February 2020, the same week they got the happy pregnancy news, tragedy struck the young family again when Katie’s husband Joseph was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer.
“We found out we were expecting the same week Joseph was diagnosed so it was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. But I found that it pushed me to recover from my stroke. I didn’t forget about my stroke, but I put it in the back of my mind because I knew I had to focus on Joseph getting better and, on my pregnancy,” Katie explained.
Thankfully both Katie and Joseph have made a full recovery and their beautiful baby daughter Dayna was born last year.
To help with her recovery Katie joined the Irish Heart Foundation’s Stroke Support Group and said that when she first attended everyone assumed, again due to her young age, that she was caring for someone who had a stroke.
Despite once again being the youngest member, Katie says she “really enjoyed the activities and camaraderie that came with membership of the Irish Heart Foundation’s stroke support group.”
Reflecting on their first three years of married life during which Katie and Joseph experienced the heartache and stress of her stroke and his cancer diagnosis, as well as the pure joy of their new baby daughter, Katie said it had been “an emotional rollercoaster.”
“Stroke can play havoc with your emotions…I was a wreck when I came home, I just I didn’t know what to do. I was so afraid to go anywhere. I was afraid to leave the house in case I had another stroke.”
“I remember that evening when I came home from hospital, I just burst out crying…for a couple of weeks I wouldn’t stay in the house on my own, I wanted somebody there the whole time. I was just on edge the whole time,” she said.
Katie availed of six weeks counselling from the Irish Heart Foundation which she said really helped her deal with the psychological and emotional impacts of her stroke.
She said that she has also learned to slow down and take life a little easier, well, as easy as you can with a playful toddler in tow.
“It really makes you appreciate life so much more,” she said of her stroke experience