The recipe for a happy life is to be supportive, healthy and positive.
That’s according to 37-year-old stroke survivor Natalie Burns who vows to always ‘keep moving forward’.
It’s hard to imagine that in a matter of hours, you can lose your ability to walk and talk.
The basic skills you learnt as a child suddenly disappear, leaving you unable to communicate.
But that is exactly what happened to the mum-of-two from Park Gate.
Last September a normal morning turned into a life-threatening situation when Natalie collapsed on her kitchen floor.
That’s when I felt the full effect of the stroke – I was losing my speech. My words just wouldn’t come out.
Despite feeling ‘not quite right’ and having a pain in her calf, Natalie didn’t think anything of it.
She says, ‘I had fainted once or twice before so I didn’t suspect a thing.’
Natalie’s husband Richard told her to rest in bed while he made a doctor’s appointment. But matters worsened when Natalie fell off the sofa and she couldn’t get herself back up.
‘I had completely lost the feeling in my left arm,’ she says. ‘My sister Sarah came round and immediately noticed my eye had drooped. It clicked then that she thought I was having a stroke.’
Sarah (Atkins) is not medically trained but she had learnt from the Act FAST government advertising campaign to teach people how to recognise the signs of a stroke, and what to do.
Natalie says: ‘Miraculously she was there and I will never forget that she saved my life. She acted fast and dialled 999.’
From this point, Natalie’s journey to Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, remains a blur.
On arrival, her family was told she had suffered a stroke which had travelled from a clot in her leg, across her heart and attacked her brain.
‘I remember thinking, what? I had a stroke? I’m only 37. What is wrong with me?’
Natalie was given a clot-busting treatment called thrombolysis at QA before being rushed to Southampton General Hospital to undergo a thrombectomy, a treatment to remove the clot.
She says: ‘Before I went in to the operating room, they were showing me cue cards to keep my speech up. I couldn’t say words like helicopter or ambulance.
‘That’s when I felt the full effect of the stroke –I was losing my speech. My words just wouldn’t come out.’
Despite having no family history of strokes, a series of head scans soon unveiled the cause.
‘We found that I had an inherited blood disorder, which made me Protein C deficient and therefore I am susceptible to blood clots.’
After spending two days in the Southampton hospital, Natalie was discharged, armed with a diary full of appointments, ranging from anagrams to speech therapy.
‘I was absolutely desperate to get my speech back’, says Natalie.
But Natalie didn’t receive speech therapy for another three weeks. So while she was at home she did endless amounts of word searches and crosswords with her parents.
By the time Natalie saw a therapist her speech had improved so much there wasn’t much more they could do.
‘But what they helped me with the most was my confidence, which was important’, Natalie says. After a stroke many people report huge knocks to their self-esteem.
Oliver, nine, and Alexis, six, were a huge source of strength to their mother who says, once she was home, they ‘just got on with it’.
But clouding Natalie’s head was the thought of another stroke striking.
‘I told Oliver that if mummy falls to the floor he would need to dial 999. I was conscious that they did leave one clot in my brain during the thrombectomy, as it was too risky to remove it.’
Four days after Natalie left hospital her fears started to come true when her face began to feel numb. She was taken into hospital but was soon cleared.
‘My face still gets numb but I now know that it’s from the fatigue,’ Natalie says.
‘I can’t let myself have late nights anymore – sometimes I go to bed at 7pm. But every week is getting better.’
Looking back, Natalie is grateful for everyone who helped her on that tragic day, especially her older sister Sarah.
For most people, having a serious stroke would put life on hold, but Natalie refuses to let it get in the way.
‘Sometimes my words still come out wrong, so I say “right, I’m off to bed now” because I know I’m tired. I’ve learnt not to get upset about it. I’m still living and am thankful for that.’
When asked to deliver a message to other stroke survivors, Natalie says the key is to just keep going.
She adds: ‘Come back stronger and better than you ever were before.’
To see a video of Natalie, go to portsmouth.co.uk/lifestyle.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT SOMEONE IS HAVING A STROKE
Since Natalie Burns’ stroke she has been working closely with the Stroke Association.
The charity funds research and provides vital after-care to stroke victims. Natalie credits the charity with getting her through these tough few months.
She says: ‘I would do anything for them. More people need to know about the charity and the Act FAST campaign. It can happen to anyone, regardless of age.’
What is the Stroke Association? The Stroke Association is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to conquering stroke. They deliver services across the country, campaign for better stroke care, invest in research and fundraise to expand their reach to as many stroke survivors as possible.
There are over 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK with 100,000 strokes happening in the UK each year. Even though you are now twice as likely to survive a stroke compared to 20 years ago, stroke is still the fourth single largest cause of death in the UK.
The Stroke Association is raising awareness of the signs of stroke and how people can spot the symptoms.
The FAST test helps people recognise the most common symptoms and the right actions to take:
FACE: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
ARMS: Can the person raise both arms?
SPEECH: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
TIME: To call 999.