Frances Hughes was only 62 when she had a stroke. Now, almost a year on, she reflects on “an amazing recovery”.
Frances Hughes didn’t give too much attention to the sharp pain in her eye during what should have been an enjoyable bank holiday weekend with her friends.
“I didn’t say anything to anyone. I just ignored it,” she remembers. “The next morning my eye was like a ball of blood.”
Although convinced that it was just an eye problem, Frances decided to go to A&E after she noticed an increased heart rate, also known as fibrillation.
“I have acute bradycardia which means my heart rate is really slow,” she says. “But when I arrived at the hospital, they told me my heart was beating 186 beats a minute. That was four times faster than it should have been.”
As the doctors were unsure whether it was a blood clot or conjunctivitis, they put Frances on eyedrops and medication for any recurring fibrillation. A month later, she started fibrillating again.
“I went to the hospital, took the medication and two days later I had a stroke. I found out the stroke had been caused by the fibrillation.
“I’ve always had a slow pulse and although I worked as a nurse, I had never thought I would have a stroke. I just never made that connection. When my eye went pink, I thought it was just a burst blood vessel. At no point did I think I would have a stroke. Until I actually had one.”
It was the recovery process that had truly changed Frances’ life.
“Within 20 minutes of arriving at the Walton Centre, I was placed under general anaesthetic to undergo a thrombectomy. When I woke up it felt like everything had been a bad dream. Before the surgery, my speech was slurred, I was dribbling and I was completely paralysed on my left-hand side. Three hours and a half later, I was absolutely fine.”
Thrombectomy is a surgery which removes blood clots and helps restore blood flow to the brain. While it can’t be used for all types of strokes, a thrombectomy is an effective way of treating strokes caused by a clot.
“Every day I appreciate how lucky I’ve been. I was in the right place at the right time. It was the right sort of stroke. I am so aware of how much I owe to so many people.
“I am grateful to be with my grandchildren and I am happy to be able to do everything I did before.”
Emotional and behavioural changes are a common effect of stroke and like many stroke survivors, Frances is aware of the mental health impact a stroke can have.
The NHS says that up to 75 per cent of patients are likely to experience significant cognitive impairment, including problems with memory, attention, language and perception as well as organisation of movement and thoughts, depression and anxiety.
“I remember lying in my bed and thinking, ‘If this is my future, I’m in serious trouble’,” Frances remembers. “It wasn’t something I wanted to explore. I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating and limiting it is to know your life would change so drastically.
“Although I’ve bounced back and returned to the things I love, I think I’ve not given myself time to actually process what I’ve been through,” she continues. “Twelve weeks after I had my brain surgery, I had to undergo a heart surgery to stop me fibrillating again, so I think psychologically, I haven’t processed everything.
“My family supported me a great deal, but in the long term, being honest and admitting the fact that you’re not as you were, is extremely important.”
Almost a year after her stroke, Frances feels grateful for the support she received in what has been “a phenomenal 10 months”.
“You’ve got to give yourself time to process these things,” she says. “The most important thing is to acknowledge the fact that there’s a problem and do something about it.”
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