STROKE LEFT YOUNG MUM UN­ABLE TO RE­MEM­BER BABY’S NAME

But she over­came dif­fi­cul­ties, went to uni and is now study­ing for a mas­ter’s de­gree

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - AB­BIE WIGHTWICK Re­porter ab­[email protected]­line.co.uk

W HEN young mother Nicola Brown kept ap­par­ently wak­ing but not be­ing con­scious in the night, doc­tors told her she was sleep­walk­ing.

In fact Nicola was hav­ing seizures which re­sulted in a stroke when she was just 24. It was so se­vere it left her par­tially sighted and un­able to process in­for­ma­tion prop­erly – mean­ing she couldn’t even re­mem­ber the name of her own new­born baby.

“My part­ner would wake up and I’d just be star­ing at him not re­spond­ing,” she said.

“Be­fore my stroke I worked in var­i­ous pubs and clubs in my lo­cal area. I be­gan to have seizures in my sleep but the hos­pi­tal kept on send­ing me home say­ing I was sleep­walk­ing.

“That hap­pened four or five times but on one visit and by chance a neu­rol­o­gist came to see some­one else while I was there and the hos­pi­tal asked if they could just take a look at this one scan.

“I’ll al­most never for­get his words: ‘Wal­ton [Hos­pi­tal] now!’

“I was 24 years old when I had my haem­or­rhagic stroke.”

Nicola con­sid­ers her­self “very lucky” that her stroke, prob­a­bly caused by a ge­netic fault she was born with, hap­pened shortly af­ter she’d ar­rived at Liver­pool’s Wal­ton Hos­pi­tal from her home in Llan­beris.

“It was while they were prep­ping me for the­atre I haem­or­rhaged. I was haem­or­rhag­ing for 80 min­utes be­fore they man­aged to stop the bleed­ing.

“As a re­sult I have been left par­tially sighted, which was very dif­fi­cult to ad­just to in the be­gin­ning.

“I have the bot­tom left cor­ner of my sight in both eyes miss­ing.”

She said her doc­tor, Pro­fes­sor Bob Rafal, was her “hero”.

“I dread to think where I would be to­day [with­out him]. I re­mem­ber be­ing in the North Wales Brain In­jury Ser­vices feel­ing very help­less, frus­trated, scared and con­fused.

“‘Why did this hap­pen to me?’ and ‘I never hurt any­one’ were some of the thoughts that kept on go­ing through my head.

“Re­cov­ery is the hard­est thing I’ve ever done.

“I was a mother to two young chil­dren: a four-year-old son and a six­month-old baby girl. My left arm was in the typ­i­cal stroke po­si­tion. It was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to change and look af­ter my baby and I’d of­ten for­get her name for a very long time.

“My mother told me that peo­ple used to ap­proach us in the streets and ask me how old my baby was.

“They’d ask ‘What’s her name?’ and I did not know.

“I al­ways used to have to turn to my mum and ask these ques­tions.”

Nicola lost the abil­ity to prop­erly and ac­cu­rately re­call in­for­ma­tion, but man­aged to over­come this with the help of as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy which has trans­formed her life.

With the help of this tech­nol­ogy on her com­puter Nicola, who did not dream of go­ing to univer­sity be­fore hav­ing a stroke, found the courage to take a foun­da­tion de­gree at Ban­gor Univer­sity.

Last year the for­mer bar worker grad­u­ated from Ban­gor Univer­sity with a BSc (Hons) in Neu­ropsy­chol­ogy, and is cur­rently in the mid­dle of an MSc, with am­bi­tions to do a PhD.

Nicola also vol­un­teers for Head­way, the char­ity help­ing peo­ple who have had head in­juries, and has been nom­i­nated re­cently for a na­tional Head­way award for ded­i­ca­tion to help oth­ers with a brain in­jury.

“I started study­ing be­cause I met some­one who said: ‘I un­der­stand what you are go­ing through.’ I was very an­gry about that and thought I would learn about it so I can be ex­pe­ri­enced and work with peo­ple and re­ally know what they are go­ing through.

“I am hon­oured to have sur­vived and to be sur­rounded by such in­spi­ra­tional peo­ple who have mo­ti­vated me and pushed me to my lim­its ev­ery day.

“Ho p e f u l l y one day I aim to com­plete a PhD and to help oth­ers in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to my own. I can truly em­pathise, un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fi­cul­ties peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter a stroke.

“My ad­vice to some­one who has re­cently had a stroke is to never, ever give up. As the say­ing goes: ‘What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.’ It’s tat­tooed on my arm.”

Nicola, now 35, said the years of her life be­tween 24 and 29 were “a bit of a blur” as she strug­gled to re­cover and look af­ter her chil­dren, now aged 11 and 16.

She said hav­ing a stroke en­cour­aged her to study and change her life.

“I thought it had ru­ined my life and there was no hope, but I also wanted to un­der­stand what had hap­pened and help oth­ers,” she said.

“I think study­ing helped my re­cov­ery be­cause I am us­ing my brain rather than be­ing a bar worker.

“I did A-lev­els and an ac­cess course at Co­leg Me­nai and then went to Ban­gor Univer­sity.

“Ed­u­ca­tion for me has been a life­saver. I love it. My arm is bet­ter now. I think it has helped me phys­i­cally that I used my brain.”

Nicola, who uses a sys­tem called Dragon Dic­tate to help her read and write on her lap­top, is now chair of Head­way in Gwynedd.

Nicola Brown, from Llan­beris, who suf­fered a stroke when she was 24, won awards at the Ban­gor Univer­sity awards cer­e­mony this year. She is cur­rently study­ing for her mas­ter’s de­gree in neu­ropsy­chol­ogy

Nicola’s chil­dren at the time of her stroke and, right, the scar on her head fol­low­ing surgery

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