Louise Brookes was 10 days away from her wedding when she had a haemorrhagic stroke that derailed her NHS career and set her on the long road to recovery. Here she shares her story with SR Times.
Louise’s headache came out of the blue. “Wedding stress,” she thought to herself, as the big day was approaching.
After unsuccessful attempts to go to sleep, she went to hospital and found out that her headache was, in fact, a haemorrhagic stroke – a less common type of stroke that makes up only 13 per cent of cases. Louise was just 34 at the time.
“I had never had symptoms that would indicate that something was wrong with me,” she says. “When the doctors told me that I had a brain haemorrhage, I lost my speech.”
She had brain surgery straight away and was then moved from ITU to a brain board for rehab.
“After four weeks there, all I wanted was to go home and be with my children,” she remembers.
“I realised I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t tell the time. I couldn’t do the alphabet and I couldn’t even remember my children’s names. I really struggled with carrying on with my life. Physically, I was fine. But mentally, I was scared of dying.”
Louise’s recovery was not easy. But it was the little things that had the biggest impact, she says, remembering her husband reading about Sharon Stone and Emilia Clarke – who both suffered a haemorrhage stroke.
“At first, I thought they got better because they have loads of money, but I realised that, in fact, they got better because they put the hard work in.
“When I started to think this way, I realised that I am the only one in control of my recovery. I started to see my glass half full and I slowly started to find a way to get my head around it.
“Looking back, I realise how far I’ve come,” she continues. “When I started speech therapy, I wasn’t able to tell the time. In my last session I did the alphabet backwards.”
Ten months into her recovery, Louise went back to her job in the NHS. But due to the psychological impact of her stroke, she found it hard to work in mental health.
“I really struggled to do my job after all I’d been through. I developed health anxiety and I realised that I couldn’t go back to working in mental health. It wasn’t the right career for me anymore.
“The Dudley Stroke Association really supported me when I came out of hospital, so I contacted them and asked if I could do some volunteering.”
Covid happened and lockdown put Louise’s plans on hold. But earlier this year, a new opportunity arose and she was offered a job at Dudley Stroke.
“It felt like this was where I was supposed to be,” she says humbly. “I never thought I’d get myself out of the black hole that I felt I was in. Now all I want to do is support and inspire people like me and show them that they can do it.”
As a community stroke support officer for the Dudley Stroke Association, Louise supports stroke survivors and their families through regular meetings and phone calls to make them feel listened.
“People are surprised to hear my experience because I don’t look like somebody who recently had a stroke,” she says. “That’s why I want to be there for them.
“If somebody [as young as me] had come to see me when I was poorly, I think it would have changed my outlook on my recovery. Unfortunately, we don’t see enough young people in support groups. My goal is to inspire others and make more people aware that stroke can affect young people too.”
Her message to her fellow survivors? “Don’t beat yourself up. There are good days and there are bad days but try to understand your body.
“And set yourself goals. It will not only make your recovery easier, but it will also make you cherish your life more.
“I always used to think about how unlucky I was, but I realised that if my stroke had happened a year later, when we were in lockdown, my recovery wouldn’t have been the same.
“Everybody’s experience is different, but each stroke has the power to change the way we look at life.”
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