Izzy Hirst

My stroke has affected and continues to impact everything that I do, but when you turn that into a positive it truly changes everything.

In September 2017, I started to become ill with symptoms of what we now know was ulcerative colitis. Despite multiple trips to doctors and A&E over the course of three months, this condition went undiagnosed and untreated to such an extent that I became severely dehydrated. In the last week of November, I started to have the worst headache I had ever experienced – I couldn’t listen to noise or look at light without it being painful and had to stay in a dark room for about two weeks. My parents knew that I needed treatment urgently, and luckily found a gastroenterologist that would see me in Leicester at a private trust – about an hour and a half from where I live. When we got there, he told me that if I was in my hometown he would be admitting me straight away due to my symptoms and my heart rate being 110, but he wanted me to be admitted under my own trust – so sent me back home with the promise of a letter to get me admitted the next day. We travelled back early the next morning on December the 8th, but when I got into the house, I collapsed through the pain that I was experiencing – my family had, had enough of waiting and called an ambulance. Paramedics took me into hospital, my heart rate was now 120. I had no idea how dramatically things were about to change.

When I arrived at the hospital I was sent for an X-ray of my stomach. It was whilst getting onto the X-ray bed that I felt my right side go extremely heavy. I became very distressed when I realised this and screamed out to the staff in absolute panic because I had no idea what was happening. Almost like slow motion, I remember collapsing off of the bed, feeling my limbs and head hit the floor, and then everything went black – at this point I had my first seizure.
The next thing I remember is being in a hospital room, constantly throwing up. At this point I realised I couldn’t move my right-side but was still able to use my fingers and toes. I didn’t even question this because my brain was in such a foggy state. Unfortunately, when I woke up the next day, I had complete right-sided paralysis and loss of feeling – it was confirmed that I had, had a stroke. That night, I was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Over the next few days, it became clearer what had happened – we found out the dehydration had led to the formation of clots on my brain, one of these had haemorrhaged which caused a bleed – hence the stroke. During my time in hospital we were constantly in limbo, the swelling on my brain was a major issue because it would constantly increase and decrease, this resulted in the neurosurgeons being alerted multiple times. I can’t recall much from these days, I know that at some point I was moved from the stroke ward to the gastro ward, and also started physiotherapy. At some point I was told that I needed to take a year out from college to recover, and if I did recover it might not be that well – the main priority was saving my life. I really didn’t understand this or take it seriously, I even asked my sister to pick me up some work from college for me to do in hospital. The first-time reality sunk in was when I did a cognitive test and struggled to count to ten.

The next few months were extremely difficult, I watched my friends as they passed driving tests, went off to university and started the next chapter of their lives. I didn’t feel that I had a purpose at this point, I was only waking up to go to appointments and blood tests. I had gone from being an A* student to having a pretty vacant mind with minimal thoughts. I was able to spend time with friends sometimes, but usually I was either too tired or found keeping up with social interactions very hard. To go from a girl that was intelligent, independent and a social butterfly to this was heart-breaking. To everyone else, I was still the positive Izzy that they had always known, but I knew that I had woken up a different person. My parents noticed as my mental state became increasingly negative and found help for me. Soon after this, I started college again in September 2018, which really gave me a focus and a drive – I wanted to get the best grades I could and finally go to university to prove to myself that what had happened didn’t have the power to take anything away from me. Within a few months, my mental health was in the best place it had been for a long time, and with that I saw an increase in my cognitive function and physical abilities too.
Luckily, I have now regained all of my movement, and whilst I still have deficits due to my brain injury, I am incredibly lucky to be where I am today. In summer 2019, I completed my A-levels and now I am studying Biomedicine at university. My passion is raising awareness of stroke in young people and brain injury itself. Any survivor reading this will know that there are dark days in recovery, but I believe that with the right support and mindset there really is life after stroke. Before my stroke, I was a typical teenage girl – my main worries probably being what outfit I would wear at the weekend. I now feel that my life has been enriched in terms of mindset, opportunities and the challenges that I have learnt to overcome – it’s my mission now to help others in that dark place see that you can find a way through anything. And, I can do this through supporting A Stroke of Luck.