One moment Jan McDonald was relaxing on a paradise Mexican beach, the next, her life hung in the balance.
Jan, now 58, suffered a stroke while on a dream holiday and was left with severe communication difficulties.
It changed her life totally – she had to give up her job as a driving instructor and learn to talk again.
But now Jan, from Clanfield, leads a happy life.
Not only does she get out and about and drive her own specially-adapted car – which is her pride and joy – but she also volunteers for support groups for others who have suffered a stroke.
Although Jan now has a condition called aphasia which limits communication, she wants to show that there is life after a stroke. She has a small amount of speech and uses hand gestures to help her communicate.
But says she enjoys her life now and says: ‘My life is alright. I clean and I cook and I can drive,’ she says.’
Jan was on holiday with her husband Malcolm and son Keiran in Mexico when she suffered a stroke in July 2005.
Her daughter Carly Davey, 34, takes up the story and details the impact on the family.
‘I had a phone call from my brother to say that mum had had a stroke. I didn’t fully understand what it meant.
‘Unless it happens to you or your family, you don’t really know.
‘She had been on the beach. My dad took a photo of her and he looked down at it. When he looked back up she was lying on the beach.
‘Luckily there was an American doctor there who spoke Spanish.
‘He was able to identify that she was having a stroke and he was able to speak in Spanish to the paramedics.
‘They took her to a private hospital and she received excellent care. Twelve years ago, if she had had the stroke in Portsmouth, she would have died.’
Jan was given a drug that was unavailable in Portsmouth at the time. She was in intensive care in hospital in Mexico for three weeks.
The family then had to cope with a great deal of stress trying to get Jan home through her insurance company.
She flew home in a private plane which had to stop five times as the pilot couldn’t fly too high due to the air pressure which could have affected Jan’s condition.
At the time she was in and out of consciousness and doesn’t remember the journey home now.
When she returned home, she was taken to Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, then on to Haslar in Gosport. She was in hospital for seven months.
The stroke left Jan with a weakness in the right side of her body.
Now she uses functional electrical simulation (FES) which enables her to walk through electrodes in her leg.
‘She’s got no control over the muscles. So that’s been a real game-changer,’ Carly adds.
‘She couldn’t walk for a long time. This has given her so much independence. But if we are out and about for the day, we will take her wheelchair.’
Before the stroke, Jan was a driving instructor and ran a successful business.
‘We had a couple of years where she was feeling really down and tearful every day,’ Carly says.
‘But the situation is a bit different now. We found our own way.’
Carly now works for the Stroke Association, having been inspired by what happened to her mum.
‘In 2009, we were just bumbling along. A lady from the Stroke Association came to the house and she was brilliant.
‘Mum didn’t want to identify herself as being disabled. When we suggested going to anything like a group she was adamant that she didn’t want to be a part of it.’
But in the end Jan agreed and joined a group in Petersfield where she met other people who had been through a similar situation.
Slowly, over the years, she has started to build up her communication skills again but she can’t communicate the way she used to be able to.
‘Mum used to attend communication groups and support sessions for people with aphasia and that massively helped her confidence,’ Carly says.
‘She was such an outgoing person before the stroke. She was the loudest person in the room.
‘But she didn’t want to be in a crowd. She just didn’t feel confident anymore. But starting to go to these groups was a real boost to her confidence. You find the places where you feel comfortable.
‘Now, she’s like a celebrity at Morrisons in Horndean. Everyone knows her and says hello to her. People know that she is going to need help.’
Around a third of people who suffer a stroke have aphasia.
‘We want to highlight the difficulty that people with aphasia face on a day--to-day basis. For some people it will be a lifelong condition and there’s no medical cure. Twelve years down the line, we want to show the positive side of it,’ Carly says.
Jan now volunteers for the Stroke Association. ‘She’s so inspirational to people because she’s so bright and bubbly,’ Carly adds.
Carly works to support people who struggle with communication. She runs groups and gives one-to-one support. ‘I feel really passionate about it,’ she says.
‘It’s been fed back to me that my passion shows in how I conduct myself. I don’t feel that because mum had a stroke I’m an expert, but I have got that level of empathy.
‘It’s about acceptance. It’s quite a long journey. We want to show people there’s life after a stroke and you can be happy.’
WHAT IS APHASIA?
According to The Stroke Association, aphasia is a complex language and communication disorder resulting from damage to the language centres of the brain.
This damage may be caused by a stroke, a head injury, a brain tumour or another neurological illness.
While stroke isn’t the only cause of aphasia, it’s by far the biggest.
Around a third of people who have a
stroke will experience aphasia. It’s estimated there are more than 350,000 people with aphasia in the UK.
Some people may refer to aphasia as dysphasia.
The former is the medical term for full loss of language, while dysphasia stands for partial loss of language.
The word aphasia is now commonly used to describe both conditions.