Young Lurgan mum who had a stroke at 26 says she has lost precious time with her baby daughter
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Rachel Gardiner’s family were warned she might not survive after her stroke in June last year, aged just 26.
Fortunately, she did and is now she’s sharing her story to back the Stroke Association’s campaign to make people aware that stroke can happen to anyone of any age.
The charity research by the Stroke Association - released to mark World Stroke Day on Sunday, October 29 - reveals that over half of adults think strokes don’t affect young
people. Yet one in four happens someone of working age.
Rachel, who lives in Lurgan, was bringing her beautiful baby girl Charlotte home from a baby class when she had her stroke.
“It was a huge shock and my life changed instantly,” said Rachel. “I had just become a new mum and was living on the crest of a wave with my gorgeous little girl and then
out of the blue I had a stroke.
“I was living a very normal and healthy lifestyle. I had my daughter on June 8 via an elective c-section and everything was fine with my health and my little girl’s.
"I was having headaches the week before my stroke but with a new baby I put it down to tiredness as I was not sleeping well.”
"I had taken Charlotte to a baby sensory class and had a spasm at the top of my spine. I lost the power in my right arm and I instantly knew something wasn't right.
“I remember saying to my mum, ‘I can’t put my seatbelt on, and my arm feels funny.’ My mum checked the FAST symptoms but all was normal and the feeling came back into
Two hours later, Rachel collapsed at home and had a seizure. An ambulance was called and arrived within five minutes. The paramedics took the classroom assistant to Craigavon Area Hospital where she had several scans and it was confirmed it was a stroke.
"My family were told there was a chance I wouldn’t survive, so I was rushed to the Royal Victoria Belfast. I remember waking up in such a blur to be told, ‘you’ve had
a stroke, Rachel.’ They are the words no-one wants to hear.”
Rachel feels like she has missed out on some major milestones but not just hers, her daughter’s milestones too.
"I never imagined I would have had a stroke so young. It’s affected a lot of my relationships, as I didn't want to do anything or go anywhere because the fear of it happening
again was too real.
“I feel the time I missed with my daughter almost broke me, although she will never remember as she was two weeks old, it will always remain with me and the 'what ifs'.”
"I am lucky to be here but because I look ok doesn’t mean I am. I still have a lot of the effects that come post stroke. I have headaches 25 to 30 days of the month which
is frustrating because you feel like something is going to happen.
"I have anxiety, mostly at night when I'm in bed and I've time to think about everything. I still have severe fatigue and a lot of nerve twitching. I'm still on all my
medication and will be the for the rest of my life.
"I always thought you had to be elderly to have a stroke. When I got told I had a stroke, I couldn't believe it and I still don't to this day.
"I was 26 when I had my stroke. If I could give any advice to anyone, it would be ‘Listen to your own body, if you don't feel right get seen by a doctor no matter how
small your symptom is.’ It can happen to anyone, not just the elderly.”
There are around 5,000 hospital admissions due to stroke a year in Northern Ireland and the Stroke Association warns that many young stroke survivors are missing out on
significant milestones in their lives as a result of the physical and emotional effects.
Alasdair O’Hara, associate director for the Stroke Association in Northern Ireland, said: “Our research highlights that people still think stroke is a condition that only
affects older people. It’s crucial that we challenge this misconception and make people aware that stroke affects young adults too.
"After a stroke, life changes in a flash. Two thirds of people who survive a stroke find themselves living with a disability. Young stroke survivors are having important
milestones and their planned futures stolen from them, while they set out on their journey to recover and rebuild their lives.
"The Stroke Association is here to help every stroke survivor in NI rebuild their lives after stroke. We provide communication support services, emotional support services
and universal services such as our helpline, My Stroke Guide, Here For You peer mentorship services. Our volunteer-led peer support groups operate right across Northern Ireland.”
To find out more about the support available for stroke survivors, go to stroke.org.uk/worldstrokeday or call the Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100.