On 28th May 2014, Carrie had a busy day; she completed a cross-fit class with her local group, came home and walked her dog, and did some house chores.
She went on to visit her parents’ house that afternoon in Ballinasloe, Co. Roscommon, who were busy working outside, and she helped them by mowing their lawn.
Carrie had been suffering from a headache throughout the day which she felt had started to ease. She and her dad, Brian, visited the local town a few kilometres away, and while in a shop buying food, she said she got ‘the worst pain you can ever imagine’ in her head. Carrie struggled to deal with the pain and said: “I thought I was dying. All I could think of was all of these people around me yet there was no one to help me.’
Carrie drove back to her parent’s house, and on arrival at the door she said ‘my mother took one look at me and said I didn’t look right. I felt so tired, so after I had dinner, I thought a nap on the couch would be the best.
“After a while, I got up and immediately got another very bad pain in my head.
"I went into the kitchen to my mother, and she knew something was wrong. The right side of my face was drooping, and my right arm was weak."
Carrie’s mother, Mercedes, put her in the car to bring her to the local hospital. “I was able to put on my seatbelt, but the journey was tough because I felt like getting sick the whole time.
When Carrie arrived at the Emergency Department in Portiuncula Hospital she underwent a range of tests, but the shock came when the Doctor said: “Carrie has had a serious bleed on the brain, and the next few hours will be crucial.”
‘I am very lucky that I was with my mother when and that she recognised two of the F.A.S.T. signs of stroke, facial drooping, and arm weakness. If I was alone and in my own home, it could have been a very different outcome.’
Carrie was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and went through surgery to stop the bleeding. The following day, when she woke up in the high-dependency unit she was speaking but had no volume, her speech was gone.
A few days later, Carrie had the drip removed and later Doctors told Carrie’s family that she had developed sepsis. “My parents were devastated, but they knew I was a fighter. Thankfully, I recovered after having sepsis for nine days and after five ½ weeks in Beaumont I returned to Portiuncula Hospital.
Carrie spent four ½ weeks in Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe recovering and said it was a difficult.
time learning how to do basic things again, like showering and walking. “I learned how to walk after seven ½ weeks in hospital and the nurse moved my arm after nine weeks. The staff were key in helping me to get back on my feet. The physiotherapist used to wheel me down to practice, and then let me walk back up to my ward.
"Every evening when my parents came in to visit, I would spend time walking up and down the corridors, practicing as much as I could."
When I went home, for 5 days I had spent about 10 weeks in the hospital, the nurse said: ‘You will fall but get back up again’.
“I always told myself ‘Today is a new day and things are going to get better. You can wallow in self- pity, or you can get up and take what has been dealt to you.’
Carrie was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin where for almost 12 weeks she learned skills such as communicating and spent time in the swimming pool, and strengthened her walking. She was surrounded by other people who were just as determined as she is. “I used to learn the alphabet walking up and down the stairs as each one of the steps was labelled with a letter. I had to form sentences with capital letters and full stops and sometimes this could take me up to one hour to figure out.
I had so many days where I just sat on my hospital bed and said to myself ‘I can’t do this. I can’t go through this.’
But Carrie stayed determined and focused on her recovery. ‘When you think about your life and how it was, you want to get it back.’ After some time at home returned to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, to further strengthen her speech, writing, and driving skills.
Following this, Carrie was put in touch with Acquired Brain Injury Ireland which she still receives support from and the Irish Heart Foundation. She attended a Stroke Support Group in Ballinasloe with others who had experienced stroke.
Carrie now offers peer to peer support in the Irish Heart Foundation’s Life After Stroke Group. “Some people can be angry when joining the group, and confused as to why this has happened to them. But I tell them my experience – I have recovered, I’m lucky to be alive, and if they are like me, they can spend years making yourself better.”
Carrie has recently shown her determination, and graduated from Maynooth University College where she received a degree in Community Services and Youth Work.
“I really encourage people to attend the free talks during Stroke Week – from learning about rehabilitation to speech and language therapy, there are lots of really helpful topics that can make a difference to your recovery.