Originally from Canada, Tracey had been living in Ireland for just 6 months when she awoke on St Stephen’s Day morning 2021 and found herself unable to move.
When Tracey tried to alert her husband, her words were slurred and incomprehensible. When she finally managed to pull herself out of bed, she fell to the ground, which was when her husband began to get seriously worried.
He noticed one side of Tracey’s face was drooping, and combined with the weakness on her left side, slurred speech, and loss of balance, he immediately phoned an ambulance, telling the emergency call taker that he thought his wife was having a stroke.
Tracey is grateful for the speedy actions of her husband that day, as within 20 minutes of her waking up, an ambulance was on the way to the couple’s home in Dublin.
“ I’m very blessed that we were able to react fast enough to change my life."
In the ambulance to St James’s Hospital, Tracey’s husband’s worst fears were confirmed when it was confirmed that she had had a stroke.
Unfortunately, Tracey’s husband Aaron was unable to be with her due to emergency restrictions during the Covid-19 Omicron surge.
After receiving initial clot busting treatment at St James’s her symptoms quickly recurred, and she was then transferred to Beaumont Hospital for a thrombectomy to remove any remaining clot.
At this point, the doctors learned that Tracey had suffered a carotid artery dissection, meaning that a tear in the carotid artery in Tracey’s neck had caused her stroke. The carotid arteries are a pair of important blood vessels in your neck that supply blood to your brain.
While she received medical attention in Beaumont, Tracey felt confused and alone. This loneliness was further exacerbated by COVID-19 visiting restrictions. She said it took her “days to understand” what had happened to her.
“ Part of the trauma was that in the hospital, I was in this ward with eight other people, and I’m the youngest person by at least 40 years."
Having only recently moved to Ireland, Tracey had few supports and little knowledge of where she was.
“At this point, they’re asking me where I am, and I have no idea, and it wasn’t because of any problems with my brain, it’s because I had only been in Ireland 6 months, so I had no idea where Beaumont hospital is, or where St James hospital is, or even the names of these hospitals,” she said.
Her youth compared to the other patients in the ward confounded her sense of loneliness. She explained that “part of the trauma was that in the hospital, I was in this ward with eight other people, and I’m the youngest person by at least 40 years.” She recalls thinking, “I don’t even belong here, how did I even end up here?”
“The trauma was rooted with just being in a foreign country, not knowing anyone, not knowing where I am, struggling with a stroke which is never something I thought I could have in my life, and everything was just so unfamiliar,” she added
Thankfully Tracey did not suffer any major lingering effects from her stroke. She said that this was due to how quickly she received treatment.
“I truly, truly, believe the only thing that has put me in this place was the amount of time it took to get me to that hospital and to identify what had happened,” she said.
" I had been alone for so long, and then somebody actually had information that could help me.”
Tracey found the initial few weeks post-stroke very challenging, but things improved when someone told her about the Irish Heart Foundation, and suggested that the charity might be able to help. Before contacting the Irish Heart Foundation, Tracey didn’t have a clear path for what a “normal” recovery looked like, as it would be months before her follow-up appointment in the hospital.
Tracey remembered feeling emotional the first time she contacted the Irish Heart Foundation Nurse Support Line, and said, “It was like someone could actually take my hand, I had been alone for so long, and then somebody actually had information that could help me.”
The Irish Heart Foundation’s patient support team directed Tracey to the resources and supports that were available to her through the charity. This included the nurse support line as well as the Young Stroke Survivor Network (YSSN), mindfulness classes, and therapy sessions. Tracey said these supports were vital in her recovery and said “the PTSD of the experience outweighed any of the medical side effects from the stroke and has been the most challenging, far more challenging than I ever would’ve imagined, because it is a very lonely experience.”
Tracey says that even now, over a year after her stroke, the YSSN still “brings so much comfort.”
One year on from her stroke, Tracey is doing very well. She is currently pregnant with twins who are due later this year and working in a job she loves.
“My life is very rewarding and better than it was before, and all of that is down to the fact that we were able to identify these signs so early,” she smiled.
During a stroke, minutes matter – act F.A.S.T.Learn More