Bangor University postgraduate student Nicola Brown, 35, who survived a stroke when she was just 24 years old, recently shared her story with Different Strokes, a charity that supports young stroke survivors.
As a result of the stroke, mother of two Nicola, from Llanberis, was left partially sighted and lost the ability to recall information accurately, but was able to overcome this by the use of assistive technology. This meant Nicola was able to attend university and graduated last year from the School of Psychology, with a BSc (Hons) in Neuropsychology.
Nicola 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. 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.
“I was very lucky my stroke happened shortly after and when I was actually in Walton Hospital. It was while they were prepping me for theatre I haemorrhaged. I was haemorrhaging for eighty 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. However, over time I have adjusted to living like this.
“Recovery is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was a mother to two young children; a four-year-old son, and the six-month-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 informed 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.
“I have lost the ability to properly and accurately recall information. However, I am able to overcome this by the use of my assistive technology. This means, I was able to attend university, which was something I would have never thought was possible. I graduated last year from Bangor University, with a BSc (Hons) in Neuropsychology. I am now currently in the middle of my MSc.”
Nicola also became a member of Headway Gwynedd & Môn, a non-profit organisation supporting brain injury survivors and their families/carers, in 2008. During her first year as an undergraduate student, she began volunteering with them, and in July this year, she was elected Chair.
Nicola’s volunteering has not gone unnoticed. She has scooped up many accolades, including the Student’s Union RAG Student Volunteer of the Year 2017, shortlisted for RAG Volunteer of the Year 2018 and awarded the High Sheriff Award 2018 for demonstrating outstanding commitments to volunteering whilst at university. Last month Nicola was nominated for a Headway UK National Award for Outstanding Achievement for helping others with a brain injury.
Nicola added: “Hopefully 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‘ I’ve had it tattooed on my arm.”
Photo: Bangor University