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‘Much more than a survivor’

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Connor pictured meeting Prince William

After rebuilding his life following two life-threatening strokes aged just 14, Connor Lynes now dedicates himself to supporting other young survivors to follow his lead. 

“I’m no-one special, just a kid who refused to give in.”

But to the countless people who are inspired by his story of recovery, strength and optimism, Connor Lynes is so much more than that.

Having had two strokes aged only 14 after sustaining a head injury while playing rugby, leaving him fighting for life, Connor now dedicates himself to supporting others, both through fundraising and by showing what life after brain injury can be.

Now aged 20, he has his own Connor Lynes Foundation, is a patron for Life For a Kid – which supports children who need life-changing operations, and to which Connor handed over a sensory room in November 2017, aged just 16 – and is constantly in touch with fellow stroke and brain injury survivors around the world to help guide them through their darkest days.

His work has won national recognition, a Diana Award – set up in remembrance to Diana, Princess of Wales, to acknowledge the efforts of young people who change the lives of others – and even a personal message from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to mark his recent birthday.

“You’re now much more than a survivor,” the future King and Queen of England said from their official Twitter account.

His latest fundraising challenge will see Connor walk from Hull Royal Infirmary to Leeds Children’s Hospital to raise money for three charities – the Motor Neurone Disease Association, inspired by Connor’s rugby idol Rob Burrow; State of Mind, which helped Connor with his mental health after being diagnosed with PTSD, and the L52 children’s neurological ward at Leeds General Infirmary.

And all of this while battling the ongoing effects of his strokes which affect his life daily, including non epileptic disorder, PTSD, serious headaches, dizziness and fatigue, and loss of feeling in his arms and legs.

For Sara Lynes, Connor’s aunt who has raised him from the age of three, Connor is a constant inspiration.

“I am so proud of him and to be honest, it’s him who has kept me going a lot of the time,” she says.

“He is such a positive person and a really lovely young man, he has so much positivity every day. After all he’s been through, you might think he could be angry with the world, but he is anything but.

“Connor dedicates himself every day to helping other people. There are days when he goes back to bed between doing bits of charity work, he is still very much affected by the fatigue caused by his strokes and some days are very hard.

“But he never gives up, not ever. He will always be there for people who need him.”

And that determination and fighting spirit for which Connor is now known was never more needed when he faced his battle for survival after a rugby injury six years ago.

“Connor ran into two big lads, which caused him to jar his neck, but he also hurt his ribs and had pain there,” recalls Sara.

“We got him checked out, but as he was fine and showed no signs of the head injury, he only got medical attention for the injury to his ribs. There were on signs whatsoever of anything else being wrong.”

But what transpired what that when he jarred his neck, Connor has torn an artery.

Having got out of bed feeling sick and dizzy during the night, Connor was found on the bathroom floor unable to walk, talk, and with no feeling in one side of his body.

He was found to have had an arterial thrombosis stroke, and then experienced a further stroke a week later.

“It was absolutely horrific, just a nightmare,” says Sara.

“He was put into an induced coma and to be honest, I didn’t think there was much chance of him coming out of it.

“When he went into surgery and we were there waiting to see if he would survive, it was the worst time. Just absolutely horrible.”

But happily Connor did pull through, and from his recovery came a desire to help others in his position.

“He wanted to be there for other young people, to help show them having a stroke is not the end of the world and you can rebuild your life,” says Sara.

“I think when you’re 14, you don’t know about strokes – even when I found out that he’d had a stroke, my initial reaction was ‘He’s too young for that to happen’. But it does happen, to kids much younger than Connor too.

“When a child has a brain injury, they change and the family changes too. It’s something you never get over and even now we’re finding things out about Connor we didn’t know in the beginning.

“It’s such an unknown and scary time and that’s why Connor now wants to help others to get through it. As well as raising money, he’s always on social media, responding to people who have contacted him, reaching out to others, and supporting them in any way he can.”

As the impact of his support gathered pace, Connor was invited to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge after being nominated for a BBC award. A year later, he met the Royal couple again after receiving his Diana Award.

“William remembered him from that first meeting and knew all about his story, which Connor was absolutely delighted about. William, the future King of England, must meet thousands of people but he remembered their last meeting and what had overcome and what he’d achieved,” recalls Sara.

“He and Kate are lovely people, very down to earth, and Connor didn’t expect that birthday message from them at all but was of course absolutely delighted.”

Going forward, Connor remains committed to doing all he can for other young survivors.

“He just sees himself as nothing special, but so many people see him as an inspiration and he really is,” adds Sara.

“He will keep going and do as much as he can. There is life after brain injury and Connor is showing that every day in such a positive way.”

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