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"Recovery is possible" 21-year-old stroke survivor from Aberdeenshire encourages other youngsters

By David Porter

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Some 73 per cent of the Scottish population wrongly believe that strokes don't happen to young people - yet stroke is drastically impacting young adults’ lives according to new research revealed today by the Stroke Association.

Brenna Collie has a stroke at aged just 14 back in 2017.
Brenna Collie has a stroke at aged just 14 back in 2017.

Despite most Scottish adults knowing someone who has had a stroke, there is still a common public misconception that the condition only affects older people, when in fact one in four strokes happen in people of working age.

The charity has released data to warn that not only can stroke affect anyone at any age, but that young stroke survivors are missing out on significant milestones in their lives as a result.

In a larger UK sample of respondents, the survey shockingly found that a quarter of young stroke survivors aged 18-60 (25 per cent) feel their stroke has robbed them of their future.

Over a third (37 per cent) of survivors aged between 18-60 said that before their stroke, they didn’t think strokes happened to people of their age. While over half of these young stroke survivors (56 per cent) say their stroke has prevented them achieving an important life goal, such as progressing their careers or starting new relationships.

The effects of stroke are often devastating, with lives changed in an instant and survivors often left with serious long-term health issues.

The research found that a staggering three quarters (78 per cent) of stroke survivors aged 60 and under are struggling with fatigue since their stroke, while almost two thirds (61 per cent) are living with depression or anxiety. More than half of respondents aged 60 and under (58 per cent) now experience one- sided weakness, while almost two thirds (63per cent) are living with memory problems following their stroke.

Brenna Collie has a stroke at aged just 14 back in 2017.
Brenna Collie has a stroke at aged just 14 back in 2017.

Brenna Collie (21) from Strichen, Aberdeenshire had her stroke in 2017 at the age of 14.

The effects were devastating.

At the time, Brenna was at home in her bedroom. She dropped her phone, stood up, but didn’t know how to walk.

She said: “I thought it was a stroke, I knew something terrible was happening, but it felt like nobody apart from my parents believed I was having a stroke.”

It took the doctors a while at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to realise Brenna was having a stroke – she seemed far too young.

“It was scary. I felt fearful.”

Once diagnosed Brenna was treated quickly and received Physiotherapy, and Occupational Therapy in hospital.

Brenna was then transferred to The Royal Hospital for Children & Young People in Edinburgh where she received the same therapy.

Brenna was unable to walk at first, and although she has since regained movement, it has been a battle.

She said: “I did not have a full-time job to lose nor a home but going back to school as ‘the girl who had had the stroke’, was challenging.

Having been sport- mad and very academic, I had to ease myself back gently, which was frustrating.”

After her stroke, Brenna suffered anxiety and experienced nightmares (for years,) and her self- esteem plummeted.

She said: “Due to my anxiety, I have found it really challenging to make friends, I have some, but not many, and often feel quite isolated.

"I’ve also not learned to drive yet due to my anxiety.

"I’m a bit of a homebody because of anxiety and pain, but I’m working on it.”

Whilst Brenna did well in her exams, and is now studying Educational Studies, she would admit her stroke did impact her career choice quite significantly.

She said: “I originally wanted to be an engineer, but the learning part of my brain was affected so maths became difficult.”

However, Brenna’s determination is evident. On the day Brenna left hospital, she visited her local archery club, and her coach gave her hope that she would go back to the sport.

“I am thrilled to be playing archery again and have now taken up cycling. Sport is a big part of my life, I love it.”

She is developing her skills too, and during the pandemic, Brenna learned how to knit with her affected arm.

There are about 10,000 strokes each year in Scotland and over 128,000 people living with the effects, and it’s estimated there will be almost 175,000 by 2035.

The Stroke Association is urging the general public to know that stroke can happen to anyone at any time and the effects can be devastating.

Despite its enormous challenges, with support, recovery is possible.

Health Boards to treat stroke as the priority it ought to be and take prompt action on delivering the Scottish Stroke Improvement Plan.

John Watson, Associate Director at the Stroke Association, said: “Every stroke survivor should receive the support they need to help rebuild lives and help them to achieve their life goals.

"Our research highlights that people still think stroke is a condition that only affects older people.

"It’s crucial that we challenge this misconception and make people aware that stroke affects young adults too.”

Brenna continued: “I didn’t know strokes could happen in younger people. But I do now.

"Having a stroke is devastating, and I want everyone to know that.

"My determination, and support from others, has helped me to get to where I am today.

"I want other stroke survivors to know that recovery is possible and to reach out.

"I also firmly believe stroke should be given the same attention as other health conditions.”

John concluded: “Stroke is classed as a Clinical Priority in Scotland, but it needs to be treated as such. No-one deserves to have their hopes and dreams taken away from them, without the support they need, no matter what age.

Recovery from stroke is possible, but it requires the public’s attention, the voice of stroke survivors, and action from decision makers. Together, we

can make positive change, by taking real action.”

If you know a stroke survivor of any age, call the Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100.

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