"I had a stroke at 41"

Helen Mancini describes a terrifying wake-up call when she suddenly couldn’t move.

One Saturday night in August 2015, Helen Mancini was at home with her husband getting ready for bed. After brushing her teeth, she went to the toilet and in an unexpected split second, her whole life changed.

All of a sudden, I just couldn’t move. It just sprang on me. I managed to bang with my right arm onto the wall and my husband came in from the bedroom on the other side.

When Helen’s husband Emiliano called an ambulance and suspected that she might be having a stroke, she couldn’t believe it:

I just thought I was tired. I thought I was too young – I couldn’t be having a stroke.

Stroke Survivor, Helen Mancina

It was only when Helen’s speech was too slurred to repeat something back to the ambulance man on the phone that it became clear that they needed to get to her immediately.

A Race Against Time

A stroke cuts off the oxygen to the brain and starts to kill off brain cells. The quicker you can get treatment the fewer brain cells get killed. But they don’t grow back – that’s why the recovery is so hard.

Luckily Helen was within the four-hour window to receive a treatment that would dissolve the clot using a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

Helen’s lungs collapsed and she developed pneumonia. Hospital staff struggled to get her blood pressure under control at first. Unfortunately, this was only the start of what would become a very tough journey.

Hospital staff struggled to get her blood pressure under control at first. Unfortunately, this was only the start of what would become a very tough journey.

Road To Recovery

Helen was moved to rehabilitation in Blanchardstown – where she stayed in the facility for five months.

For the first two months, Helen was completely bed-bound and couldn’t move at all. She says that people would often come in and ask, “How did you have a stroke? You are so young.”

My goal was to get home for Christmas, so I could sort out the Christmas shopping and put up the Christmas tree.

Although she did return home in time for Christmas, Helen didn’t realise the full impact that the stroke had – she couldn’t remember how to do basic things.

I couldn't remember how to turn on the TV or use the washing machine.

Stroke survivor, Helen Mancini

Learning to become independent again was difficult. Helen’s husband and son were afraid to leave her alone – that she may fall or need something when they weren’t there.

Helen and her family became anxious that she would be lonely being home all day by herself – all of her friends worked full time. However, Helen had worked closely to targets in her job and had an incredible idea to keep herself occupied:

I thought, ‘how am I going to get through this? I’m going to have to set targets’. So I signed up for a mile walk. I thought ‘in five months I’m going to be able to do this’.

Helen took a lot of walks with her carer where they’d wander a little further each day.

Instead of having “a pity party for one” leading up to the anniversary of her stroke, Helen set her sights on the Great Pink Run, a five mile run in Phoenix Park which she completed with her husband (seen below), and her 16-year-old son, Ben

Journey Back To Full Health

“I’m only two years in and I’m still at rehab. I still have a lot of recovery to do, some of which I don’t even realise. You only discover that you have new limitations as you go.”

In Helen’s eyes, her stroke was avoidable and has been glad of the positive impact it has made on her friends:

“A lot them have joined the gym or Slimming World. You get a shock – you never think it could happen to someone so close. The reality is that it could happen to anyone, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

Helen admits that she knew she wasn’t healthy but didn’t want to face up to it. ”I was overweight, I just generally didn’t feel well. I was tired a lot but I had a very stressful job and just like everybody I thought I was coping.”

Her one salient piece of advice from surviving, and thriving after a stroke at 41? To get your blood pressure checked, immediately.

Copy Courtesy of The Journal

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