Recovery after a stroke: Lil's story
Lil Sullivan’s life was changed by a stroke at the age of 49. Like many strokes, Lil’s happened without any warning, one day in summer 2005. Katherine Woods finds out about how Lil has adapted to life after a stroke, and takes a look into our stroke research.
“When I had the stroke, I had no idea what was happening. I couldn’t lift my head up or move any part of my body. My partner called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.”
Like more than 14 million adults in the UK, Lil had high blood pressure, which is a major cause of heart attack and stroke. “Only a few months before the stroke, my doctor told me I had borderline high blood pressure and that I should consider taking medication to lower it. But she didn’t give it a big sell, so I didn’t do it.”
Adapting to change
Lil’s stroke was caused by a burst blood vessel in her brain – known as a haemorrhagic stroke. A few days after, she had surgery to repair the burst blood vessel in her brain and stop it from bleeding again. During the operation she had another stroke and was put into an induced coma.
She says: “When I woke up I thought someone was playing a bad joke on me because I saw my left hand and thought it was wooden. I couldn’t do anything with it – it wouldn’t work.”
To begin with, Lil wasn’t able to move, eat or talk. “That was a frightening time. I couldn’t even look around the hospital room; I could only look at the ceiling.”
She had intensive physiotherapy to regain as much of her strength and mobility as possible. She learned to walk and talk again, but her stroke has left her with weakness on the left side of her body and a tremor in her right hand, as well as affecting her speech, vision, thoughts and memory.
Lil's daughter t'lda (left) and other family members have been a great source of support.
Adapting to a new life Lil needs help with daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning around her home in South London, where she moved 26 years ago from County Kerry in Ireland.
She says: “Life is hard anyway, so life after a stroke is just a different kind of hard.”
Lil’s 18-year-old daughter t’Ida, who was only five at the time of her stroke, does the cooking at home and her older daughter Sadb, 35, and sister Medg help out too.
“I’m so grateful and blessed with my family – they rallied around to help me,” Lil says. She also has a carer who comes every day to make her breakfast and do some cleaning.
Building a new life
Performing on stage and creating art have helped Lil retain her sense of self since the stroke happened
Now 62, Lil still writes songs and does art nearly every day, but says life has changed a lot since her stroke.
“I’m a very different woman in some ways and that’s quite sad for me,” she says. “I was a good dancer but now I’ve put on weight because I can’t exercise like I did before.”
Lil also attends the London Stroke Choir every Monday. “Singing in the choir definitely helps the vocal cords, and I always come away in a better state of mind than before.”
Lil is performing in a play too, called Stroke Odyssey, with three other choir members. She’s proud that she’ll be performing one of her own songs in the play.
“It makes me so happy to be involved. Some people think we are just stroke survivors, but we are so much more than that.”
BHF stroke research
With BHF funding, stroke expert Professor Philip Bath is testing a new way to improve outcomes for patients.
- "After a stroke we know it's important to lower a person's blood pressure as quickly as possible to minimise long-term damage. This begged the question: can we get blood pressure treatments to patients even sooner, in the ambulance on their way to hospital?
- Professor Bath has tested a patch that delivers the drug glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), which relaxes and widens blood vessels, through the skin. He is now testing this in a trial involving over 1,000 stroke patients. Paramedics apply the patch to a patient's skin on their way to hospital, where it is then replaced every 24 hours for three days.
- The study will look at whether stroke patients given the patch had better outcomes than those given a placebo patch. "The beauty of the treatment is that it's easy to use and costs just 39p, so if the results are positive, it could be applied to help patients around the world - not just in high-income countries."