Having a stroke at the age of nine or 25 is not in most people’s life plans but for members of the Young Women After Stroke Group it is a reality and one they are learning to recover from with each other’s help.
The support group, which meets in Brownlow Hub, is celebrating its second anniversary on February 25, having achieved an amazing amount in just two years.
Members, ranging in age from 16-60, have posed for a calendar, taken part in a fashion show and organised a concert - all to raise money and promote the group.
They are also involved in lobbying on issues including more support for young stroke sufferers who want to have children as well as better financial help in the recovery process.
Their next project, already well under way, is the publication of a book aimed at 4-8-year-olds to explain ‘why mummy is the way she is’.
Two of the group’s youngest members, mums Cheryl Corbett (37) and Kerry Edgar (28), have drawn on their own personal experience in the writing of the book.
Cheryl (37), from Dollingstown, had her stroke when she was just 25. The former personal assistant was affected down her right side - and despite surgery has no feeling in her foot.
Along with most of the other women in the group, she also has to live with other long-term effects such as tiredness and asphasia (difficulty in communicating or finding the right word).
There are times when she has to explain to Alfie (3) - who she had despite being aware of the risks involved in pregnancy - that mummy isn’t feeling well and has found the book of immense benefit to him.
Kerry Edgar (28), from Garrymore in Craigavon, had her stroke when she was just nine, and was completely paralysed down her right side for eight months as well as losing her speech.
She said, “I made a quick recovery physically but I have a terrible short-term memory, the tiredness never leaves you and my speech can be affected.”
Like Cheryl, she was advised not to have children, but went ahead and, despite high-risk pregnancies, had three normal, healthy children, now aged between eight months and 10 years.
She added, “I was told three times not to have children but one of the things we are campaigning for is that there is life after stroke, and that there should be more support for women like us who want to have children and lead normal lives.
“We also want to raise awareness that you may look okay but sometimes there are things, such as the communication difficulties, going on in the background.”
Lisa Magowan (43) from Lurgan, a sole parent of three boys, had her stroke last September, just a weeks before her mother’s death. In the preceding weeks, she had been keeping up a hectic pace, caring for her young family and her mum.
She said, “I was working part-time and, financially, I need to try to get back to work. At the moment I am down to statutory sick pay. I still have weakness in my left side, poor co-ordination and awful tiredness.”
Stroke does not discriminate when it comes to fitness, either. Bridin Douglas, from Lurgan, had a 30-year career as a health and fitness instructor and was in peak physical condition when she suffered her stroke in 2012.
“Life was changed in an instant,” she said. “Only six weeks after a stroke all the therapists are finished with the patients. Each person is left feeling devastated, isolated, trying to recover on their own and build some manner of life again.”
Bernie Fox (54), from Moy, has been through more than most. She was undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer when she took her stroke in July 2014, and in nine months also went through the trauma of a mastectomy, open heart surgery and losing both parents.
She said, “When I get tired, I can’t speak, The word is in my head but I can’t say it. At one stage I couldn’t even have a conversation without crying. I have got so much support from the group.”
The group meets fortnightly from 11am to 1pm and all young women are welcome. Co-ordinator Valerie Dale can also be contacted on 07947 273 013 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.