Stroke: look out for the danger signs, warns victim

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Sheer determination has helped stroke victim Dawn Clarkson of Belton to an amazing recovery ... but she is still in shock at having suffered a stroke without warning at the age of 53.

Dawn, who works as a trading standards project officer in York, did carry a certain amount of pressure, she admits. But when she suffered her paralysing stroke she was taking part in a fitness workout near her home.

The mum of two adult children said: “I felt strange. It came on suddenly and I couldn’t talk ... I just sat on the ground.

“Eventually I lost consciousness and didn’t regain it for a week.”

Dawn had suffered a bleed on the brain.

The only sign maybe of an impending stroke had been a very stiff neck that she had checked out two years previously.

That had flagged up high blood pressure at the time but this had been monitored regularly and had been fine at a check-up two weeks before her black-out.

“The stroke was a complete shock,” she said. “I had never been in a hospital for anything. I exercised regularly. There was some pressure to the workload I was carrying but it wasn’t excessive. No-one knows why this happened to me when it did.”

When Dawn did finally come round a quarter of her brain was not functioning. She could not identify objects and although she felt she ‘knew’ people, she couldn’t place them. She was in hospital for nine-and-a-half weeks.

Her whole right side was paralysed. She couldn’t walk or use her right arm and hand. “I would talk to people but use entirely wrong vocabulary. What I thought I was saying was actually nothing of the sort,” she said. “My friend Sindy became ‘Spoon’, but I thought I was saying Sindy.”

Despite a bleak prognosis Dawn has worked tirelessly on her exercise routine and recovered sufficiently after a year to return part-time to her work, conveniently close to York railway station. She is grateful to colleagues for their unstinting support.

Intensive therapy at home was based on a Victorian principle with her dominant left side restricted to force her to use her weak right side. Her exercise routine was carried out three times daily over several weeks.

Now Dawn can type and has cast aside her wheelchair.

“At work they have even changed the evacuation procedure for me in case of a fire. I have my own desk and chair for the one day a week I am in the office,” she explained.

But she is keen to stress to everyone that any changes in health should be checked out rigorously, as strokes are not restricted to people over the age of 50 or even 40, although in this age group stroke rates are soaring, claims the Stroke Association.

There are around 152,000 strokes in the UK every year and half of survivors are left with a form of disability, of varying severity.

“People need to be aware of the dangers and listen to their body,” said Dawn. “If something’s wrong, however small, get checked out.”

She added: “I was lucky. I only just escaped an operation as the bleed on my brain stopped to prevent that being necessary. And I’ve had great support, not least from my partner Les. I have to be careful. If my leg gets tired. for example, it can twist.

“I never thought initially I would return to work. But I guess I could have just sat and felt sorry for myself, instead of making the decision to fight.

“The Stroke Association was extremely helpful. I do feel I’ve been lucky.”