A stroke as a teenager: Mark's story
Mark Flood was just a regular teenager when he had a stroke. He tells Sarah Brealey how it affected his life, and how cardiac rehabilitation helped him continue his dream career.
“In one sense, my life changed overnight,” says Mark Flood, who had a stroke aged just 14. “One moment I was a normal teenager, wanting to have water fights, build treehouses, meet girls, and draw, and then I was being approached by everybody at my school, saying: ‘What has happened to you?’”
A terrifying time
Having a stroke at such a young age is rare. For Mark, now 20, its effect on his life has, in part, been positive. “The whole experience gave me an attitude that life is precious,” he says. “I realised I wasn’t invincible. I thought: I don’t want to waste time.”
Mark, from Glasgow, started making short films with friends. They set up an animation business when he was 17. He says: “Thankfully it worked out and it’s still working out.”
But at the time, having a stroke was terrifying. There was the initial fear that he might die, but he also feared that his ability to draw, along with the career he dreamed of, might have gone for ever.
We dismissed it at first, but it didn’t go away
Mark recalls the lead-up to the stroke. “At the beginning of December 2010, I developed what seemed to be a flu or fever,” he says. “We dismissed it at first, but it didn’t go away.” Doctors thought Mark had an infection, but couldn’t tell what was causing it and antibiotics didn’t help.
“I had the stroke on the night of 16 December,” he says. “I was already quite poorly. I was lying on the sofa. Then the right side of my body went strange – I think my face started to droop.
“I was taken to hospital and it turned out I’d had a stroke, which baffled the medics because I was only 14.” Mark was found to have an undiagnosed hole in one of his heart valves, which he’d probably been born with. A bacterial infection called endocarditis had developed on his faulty valve, causing the flu-like symptoms. A stroke can sometimes occur as a complication of endocarditis.
Rebuilding muscle strength
“For the first couple of days in hospital I basically couldn’t move,” says Mark. “I couldn’t walk. I was in a wheelchair for a week or two. It seemed like my hands and legs were equally useless.”
But gradually he saw signs of progress. On Christmas Day, he managed to leave his room for a glass of water. “That was when I and my family thought I was going to be OK,” he says. “That gave me the motivation to keep going.”
That scared me most, that my dream might go out of the window
Mark had daily physiotherapy exercises to help him regain muscle strength. “I remember doing simple exercises with the hospital physio, like catching and throwing a ball, walking along a straight line on the floor,” he says. “They gave me putty to mould in my hands, to get the strength back.”
To Mark, the biggest priority was to regain full use of his hands. “Even at 14, I wanted to work in animation and film. On one of the early days in hospital a nurse came up to me and said: ‘I hear you are an artist, would you like to draw something?’ She gave me a pencil and I just couldn’t hold it. I thought: ‘This is it, game over.’ That scared me most, apart from dying – that my dream might just go out of the window.”
A whole new outlook
Mark spent a month in hospital, and gradually started drawing again.
I still think about the fact that I am one of the lucky ones.
“When I finished the hospital treatment I was able to start getting my life back to the way it was,” he says. “But it could never really be the same, in a positive way, because I had a new outlook of gratitude. Those two months of my life, as I get older, are more and more insignificant. But I still think about the fact that I am one of the lucky ones.”
Mark hopes his story will help others. “Stroke can be a hopeless experience for a while,” he says. “If my story gives someone the inspiration to get back to full health, it makes everything I went through worthwhile.”