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The day that changed my life…(Northern Ireland)

Two years ago, 16-year-old Roisin had an unexpected stroke. In this blog she shares her personal story of the impact it had on her young life and her ongoing mental health and wellbeing. Roisin receives support from Brain Injury Matters, who are currently funded by BBC Children in Need.


Roisin smiling

I live in Derry, in the North West of Ireland with my parents, sister and two brothers. My eldest brother is studying in USA so from that you can work out that I have four siblings in total. I am in Year 11 at secondary school having repeated Year 10 as a result of my stroke at the age of 14.

January 2019 was the month that changed my life. Up until that time I had no health issues at all. I was loving my busy life: singing with choirs, singing solo at many big events and studying speech and drama. I performed in many dramas and shows and my dream was to be in a West End musical. I also played Gaelic football and represented the Derry Under 14s in the All-Ireland Feile in 2016. I achieved grade 3 in clarinet and played the guitar. I probably had 100% attendance at everything – even at school where I got a gold certificate for never missing a day. I was doing really well at all subjects in school. School work was no bother for me. I just loved being in school and I enjoyed working hard to achieve high marks.

In early January 2019, I was hit with my first devastating blow. I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called Inflammatory Bowel Disease Unspecified (IBDU) which is a mixture of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Then the second, and even bigger, devastating blow came my way. This was the worst day of my life. I had a massive stroke.

This stroke destroyed so many things in my life. I was rushed to a hospital a few hours away from my home and I stayed there for three months. The stroke caused so many life changing disabilities to me. I was paralysed on the right side of my body. I could not walk, talk, eat or use my right arm. My mouth had a drop to one side. I was bed bound. On top of this I was dealing with a serious bowel problem. It might be a wee bit TMI (too much information) but I had severe stomach cramps and needing to go to the toilet urgently and often. It was awful!!

Little did I know that there was massive damage to my brain because of the stroke. My parents had been informed that there was a lot of damage to the left side of my brain and little bits of damage scattered over the right side. I am aware now that this is called an acquired brain injury. I am only just starting to accept this – two years after the stroke. As a result of this brain injury, I had to relearn how to talk, walk and eat.

Most areas of school life are difficult for me now. I have had to drop a few GCSEs. I have the loveliest classroom assistant but I wish I didn’t have to have her. Making friends has been a big issue. I have found it really hard trying to fit in with another year group. All my old friends have moved on. This year, I now have a lovely group of friends in school. My moods go up and down and, yes, it does get to me when I realise there are things that I cannot do.

Thankfully I was able to find Brain Injury Matters who are funded by BBC Children in Need. Brain Injury Matters have been supporting me for nearly two years. Project workers Suzi and Bridget have worked with me on a one to one basis and have also helped my whole family. They have helped me to understand more about acquired brain injury and given me useful tips to deal with it. They have set up a Youth Steering Group and invited me to be one of their founder members. We hold meetings regularly and I have got to know other young people on the group. It’s via zoom for now because of the pandemic but hopefully we will get to meet up face to face soon. I have been appointed the treasurer on the group and I have learnt some great life-skills. I have taken part in

family quizzes, a bake-off and some well-being sessions with Brain Injury Matters. These events helped me to think of other things instead of my stroke and all its related issues. I’m really looking forward to the summer BBQ!

The stroke affected my confidence and for a long time I stayed away from activities that I used to love. I always had a passion for singing and in the last few months I have started taking singing lessons again. I feel my confidence is on the way back and maybe I will make it on to the West End one day!

Lots of people have told me that I should be very proud of myself and how I have coped with all I’ve been through. I don’t always see it that way but I’m beginning to think they’re right. I suppose I have learnt to be resilient.

My message to other children and young people would be never give up, there’s always hope and support.

Through your donations to BBC Children in Need, Brain Injury Matters can run a youth empowerment project for young people with acquired brain injury adversely affected by Covid-19. The programme helps them to manage their feelings, practise coping mechanisms, improve their relationships and develop essential life skills.

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