Patient Champion, Meaghan O’Brien, suffered a stroke at just 22 years of age

By Leanne Dempsey Stroke News   |   20th Nov 2023

A bride-to-be who suffered a devastating stroke is on a mission to have ‘invisible’ patients’ heard within the health system.

Meaghan O’Brien was just 22 when she collapsed after starting a gym session but recognised the F.A.S.T. signs such as facial drooping and left arm weakness.

Paramedics had to wheel her past her mum who was waiting to start a class in the same gym, before she was rushed to hospital and given thrombolysis, a clot-busting drug.

 

“I felt like I was dying, so I was happy to take it,”

Megan O'Brien

“I felt like I was dying, so I was happy to take it,” said the Boston native, living in Dingle, Co Kerry since 2020 and due to marry fiancé Gearóid next year.

Meaghan recently graduated as an Irish Heart Foundation Patient Champion to amplify the often-unheard views of heart and stroke patients.

Following her stroke in the US in January 2013, she was flown by medical helicopter to a Boston hospital.

“I was in ICU and surrounded by doctors and machines – it was so scary. I couldn’t do anything – I couldn’t sit up, go to the toilet or move my head.”

A week later, Meaghan’s family was given the devastating news that she would never walk again. But she was determined to recover.

“When practising walking up and down the corridors, I was surrounded by people in their 70s and 80s. I asked myself, ‘why am I here?’. It was such a shock to me.” With different needs to the other patients, Meaghan said “I felt that I was wasting precious recovery time doing something that wasn’t benefitting me.”

Now 32, she has defied doctors, regaining the ability to walk again and returning to her IT job.

The stroke survivor and 11 other patients have now graduated from the Patient Champions programme, part of the charity’s investment in heart and stroke patients.

They will advocate for fellow patients and lobby TDs and Senators to ensure their needs are taken into account when policy decisions are being made about their care.

“I would have benefitted so much from the programme if it was developed when I had my stroke,” said Meaghan.

“I’m here for those stroke patients now, to support them.” She said ‘it’s so beneficial to me to get official training on how to use my experience to make a difference. I was often ‘wheeled out’ to tell my story, but now I feel I have the training to give impact.”

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Advocacy Campaign Manager, Pauline O’Shea, who was diagnosed with heart failure in 2012, said many patients feel ‘unheard, invisible and disempowered’.

“This programme and our organisation’s commitment to ongoing peer and professional advocacy support for patients, provides a natural hub for heart and stroke patients from all over Ireland to come together and work for changes needed in cardiac and stroke care, of which there are many,” she said.

“Patients’ challenges often extend beyond medical issues and can lead to financial stress, mental health difficulties and relationship breakdown.

Pauline O'Shea, Irish Heart Foundation

“We often have people making decisions about patients’ lives without any patient input.”

“This programme is an attempt to level the playing field for patients in healthcare, in addition to empowering patients often broken by diagnosis.

“We would hope that the Patient Champions who have and will graduate from this programme will experience positive patient partnership experiences going forward.”

If you are interested in joining the Irish Heart Foundation’s Patient Champions Programme, please visit https://irishheart.ie/patient-champions/

Patient Champions Programme

Are you a heart or stroke patient who would like the opportunity to advocate for yourself and other patients in your community?

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