Pic © Simon Graham, UNP
Sharon Garrity will never forget the moment that she and her husband Alistair were told by doctors that their eight-year-old daughter Hannah would be unlikely to survive the night. Hannah had suffered a massive stroke that was causing her brain to swell, and the medical team treating her feared the worst. “No parent wants to hear those words,” recalls Sharon. “We felt like our whole world was collapsing and there was nothing we could do. I’ve never felt so helpless.”
Earlier that day in February 2008, everything had been perfectly normal. As the family got up there was no hint of the turmoil that was to follow.
Sharon, who works for a housing association, had gone into work early, leaving Alistair with two of their three children, Jordan, then 10, and Hannah, while two-year-old Daniel was with Sharon’s mum. No sooner had Sharon arrived at work than Alistair was on the phone.
Sharon (47) from Co Tyrone, explains: “While getting ready for school Hannah had complained of a pain in her head which had become severe. I could tell Alistair was worried, and as I left work I was trying not to panic. When I met up with my family in A&E I could see that Hannah was in terrible pain and drifting in and out of consciousness. I couldn’t believe how our healthy, active daughter, could suddenly be so ill. It made me realise how life can change in an instant.”
After being transferred to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, Hannah’s condition deteroriated. The family were told she’d had a stroke, and she was put in intensive care, while doctors fought to stop her brain from swelling. “It was a life or death situation,” says Sharon. “The doctors didn’t expect Hannah to survive and all we could do was hold her hand and hope. I must have sent texts and messages to just about every family member and friend urging them to pray.”
Thankfully Hannah pulled through, and while Sharon and Alistair were hugely relieved, they knew the road ahead would not be smooth. Still suffering from severe head pain, Hannah had additionally lost the use of her left arm and leg, had to be fed by tube, and could only move around by wheelchair.
“It was difficult for Hannah, and also for us as parents,” recalls Sharon. “Hannah had to adapt to being cared for, which isn’t easy for an eight-year-old. Meanwhile the stroke diagnosis came as a shock to myself and Alistair. I didn’t know anyone who’d had a stroke. I was aware that children can suffer one, but it was something I associated with older people more.”
Physiotherapy and determination helped Hannah to progress. Six months after the stroke she returned to school in a power wheelchair, and amazed everyone by catching up with her studies. Now almost 15, and a typical teenager who loves fashion, music and spending time with friends, Hannah is preparing to take ten GCSEs. She cannot use her left hand, and has to wear a leg splint to help her walk, but doesn’t let anything hold her back.
“I don’t want to pretend it’s been easy for any of us,” says Sharon. “In the early days it was awful watching Hannah struggle, but I firmly believe that faith and the prayers of others helped her. Hannah still needs assistance with some tasks such as getting dressed and washing her hair, and when she first went back to school she was so far behind that I never dreamed she would catch up. But she has shown enormous strength.”
The courageous youngster has also excelled in the sporting arena. After learning to swim again, Hannah won medals at the Northern Ireland Open Swimming Championships for People with Disabilities, and last summer participated in the Riding for the Disabled Association’s national championships, using a special rein. But for Sharon the proudest moment came last year while watching Hannah receive the Children and Young People’s Courage Award in the Stroke Association’s Life After Stroke Awards. “I couldn’t believe how far Hannah had come,” says Sharon. It was surreal, and very emotional.
“These days we don’t mention the stroke. We just want to move forward so that Hannah can get on with her life. I have no idea what she will do in the future, but I’m not worried so long as she’s happy. Just having her here is what means the most to me. I know things could have been very different, so I remain thankful for what I have, and full of pride for my lovely daughter. I’m probably the proudest mum in the world!”
- Call the Stroke Association helpline on 0303 3033 100 or visit www.stroke.org.uk
Nominate a stroke hero
Do you know someone inspiring who has been affected by stroke? Nominate them for a Stroke Association Life After Stroke Award and give them the recognition they deserve. All over the UK, there are people who show amazing courage, determination and compassion to overcome the debilitating effects of stroke. Whether they are a stroke survivor, a carer, a volunteer or professional person who works with stroke survivors, you can nominate them online at www.stroke.org.uk/lasa or request a nomination form in the post by calling the Stroke Association on 01527 903 927, or email email@example.com The deadline for entries is January 30, 2015.
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