World Stroke Day: improving services in Kent and Medway – Amber’s story
29 October 2017
Today is World Stroke Day.
Did you know that we’re reviewing stroke services in Kent and Medway and have plans to improve them?
You can find out more on the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Plan website.
We’ve been talking to stroke survivors, their families and carers, clinicians and the public about our plans.
And we hope to have news of a consultation on stroke services very soon.
In the meantime, to celebrate World Stroke Day, we’d like to share the inspiring story of Amber Garland who lives in Kent and suffered a stroke at the age of just 19.
You can find out more about stroke on the Stroke Association website.
Amber Garland was 19 years old and enjoying summer after her first year at university when she had multiple strokes in 2009.
At first, she just felt generally unwell. She developed migraines and then lost movement and experienced numbness down one side of her body.
“I went to the GP and he said it was probably a trapped nerve. As I was due to fly out to Trinidad on holiday I hoped that was the case, but a week later I collapsed. I went to see another GP, thinking it must be more than a trapped nerve, but they couldn’t offer any other explanation,” said Amber, now 27 years old.
“My mum was worried so took me to A&E at Medway Hospital. They did some tests, gave me an aspirin to take and as I stood up, aspirin in hand, I had multiple strokes. It turned out I had clots in my arms, legs, lungs, brain, but thankfully not my heart.”
Amber, from Gillingham, was rushed to the hyper acute stroke unit at King’s Hospital in London where part of her skull was removed to relieve pressure.
“I don’t remember this time of my life,” says Amber. “But I know a lot of people worked hard to keep me alive.
“When I woke up, half of my head was shaved and I couldn’t walk. Talking was impossible. I lost my speech totally. A few weeks passed and nothing. Now I know the stroke affected my brain, causing asphasia, a condition which makes it difficult to speak, read or write. My hopes of being a psychologist seemed ruined.
“I stayed at King’s for two weeks. My family and my friends supported me, travelling up and down to London to see me.”
Once Amber was stable, she returned to Medway Hospital where she was an inpatient for two months. During that time she had speech therapy.
She was then transferred to Sevenoaks Hospital in Kent and she had speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
“I was still in a wheelchair at this point. It was six months after my stroke and I felt upset and frustrated not managing to even say the simple words.
“I had a brilliant Occupational Therapist who jumped through hoops to get me to Banstead Place, a rehabilitation centre in Surrey, and helped me tremendously. Her attitude and positivity helped me remain positive. She made a huge difference to my life.” Amber spent a year at Banstead Place.
“It was brilliant,” she says. “I had intensive rehab. We did education, speech and language, physiotherapy, art, rock climbing, table tennis, and I played dodgeball again; I’d been in the dodgeball team at uni in Southampton.”
Once home, support came from the Stroke Community Assessment Rehabilitation Team (SCART) and the Stroke Association.
Life after stroke
Amber is now an ambassador for the Stroke Association and despite her asphasia is able to stand in front of an audience and give presentations.
“Life after stroke is ongoing for me and will continue to improve. Every day I learn to say a new word or get stronger,” she said.
“My rehab is continuing but I’m in charge of it. I go to the gym every day; I’m up for any challenge. I went back to college to study art. I’ve learnt to be independent and I live alone and want to make the most out of life. So much so that I’m currently being filmed for the Undateables TV programme and I hope to meet someone who will love me for who I am.
“I won’t let what happened to me stop me. And I want others to learn from my experience which is why I started volunteering at my communication group and became an ambassador to raise awareness. I’ve done lots of presentations, helped start a Dartford stroke group, had my art in an exhibition, fundraised, done a skydive, talked to politicians at Parliament.”
But Amber’s main aim is to raise awareness of stroke in younger adults.
“I understand stroke isn’t common in teenagers but if my GP had recognised my symptoms I may not have had a stroke. We need to raise awareness with clinicians as well as the public.
“Along the entire pathway people believed in me and fought for me. That’s also important. Having a team of people who work together and are experts is important.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. I was resuscitated twice. I was encouraged. Everybody had a life-changing input to my recovery. I was never dropped; I was passed along the chain from hand to hand at the best time for me. Not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone survives.
“The care and support I had following my stroke is what got me through. Joined up care is vital and working together makes a real difference for the patient.
“Learning about stroke and how it affects people is key; picking up tips and understanding it through the eyes of other stroke survivors has helped me a lot. I was the youngest in a communication group by 40 years but still had plenty in common and had a good time.
“I see stroke a bit like a game of dodgeball: if you don’t open your eyes to it, a ball will hit. But working as a team, making others aware, shouting to your team mates and looking out for it, hopefully the ball will miss. Or maybe you’ll catch it and bounce it back!”