I want people to know it can happen to anyone at any time,’ says the fitness instructor who suffered a stroke at 37
When 37-year-old fitness instructor Caroline Brady went to work on January 17 and started to feel unwell she thought it was the tail end of a virus.
After suffering from chest pain, headaches and light-headedness for a few days, Caroline thought she was simply still getting over her winter virus – nothing that would stop her from getting up and doing what she loved.
She had already taken two weeks off work, filled with lots of rest and recuperation, and was excited to get back to her team and class members at David Lloyd Health Club in Harrogate.
Fitness has always been a huge part of Caroline’s life, and after a few weeks of resting she was itching to get up and start moving again, despite the dizziness.
But after falling ill while teaching an abs-blast class and noticing her speech was slurred, her colleagues told her enough was enough and decided to call an ambulance.
As Caroline’s condition worsened she was taken to hospital by paramedics, where she was told she had suffered a Ischemic Stroke – a type of stroke caused by a blood clot temporarily blocking oxygen to her brain.
Just a few hours later she was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary for an emergency operation in a bid to save her life.
At just 37 years old, suffering a stroke was the last thing Caroline considered was wrong with her, as she thought it mainly affected older people.
“It all happened so quickly but I couldn’t quite believe it when I was told what it was,” she says.
“Never in my life did I imagine that’s what it could be – you never think something like that could happen to you at such a young age.
“I was too late for clot busting drugs and I needed to have surgery within four hours of my stroke, or I was at risk of long term disability or losing my life. I feel so lucky that I was transferred to Leeds as it’s one of the only hospitals in the country that offers this kind of life-saving surgery.”
Amazingly, Caroline woke up the next day to find that she had already regained some control of her body and could talk to her family – but not everyone is so lucky and full recovery can take months, if not years, with many left with lasting damage.
One of the main reasons behind Caroline’s impressive recovery time is how fast her colleagues acted when they noticed she was unwell – something she is eternally grateful for.
“If it hadn’t been for my team, I might not be where I am and have been able to achieve this level of progress. It really proves the importance of acting as fast as possible and being on the lookout for the signs.”
She was in hospital for 11 days including three days on the Brain Attack Ward in LGI and Oakdale Ward in Harrogate.
Although Caroline still has a long journey ahead of her before she is back to her old self, she has been determined not to waste the progress she has made and has made it her mission to raise both money and awareness for other people who have been affected.
To mark Stroke Awareness Month in May, Caroline ran 26 miles to raise funds for Leeds Cares, the charity for Leeds Hospitals as well as two stroke charities, the Stroke Association and Different Strokes.
She said she feels incredibly proud to be able to undertake such a challenge less than four months after the devastating incident and has been motivated to carry on by all the hard work of her chosen charities.
“What happened was a huge shock to me and all my friends and family; we couldn’t believe that someone as young and healthy as me could have a stroke.
“I want people to realise that it can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of whether you have existing health problems or not.
“The work these charities do is just amazing and I cannot thank them enough for all of their support. Without the surgeons at the hospital in Leeds or the aftercare and support from the stroke awareness groups, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
“Other people deserve to have the same experience I have had and to feel as lucky as I do,” she explained.
And being the fitness fanatic and hard worker she is, Caroline had completed the 26 miles by May 24, leading her to take on a new challenge.
On May 31 she took on a 10km run, meaning she ran more than 60km across the month and has now smashed her £1,000 fundraising target, raising more than £1,725.
Following the fundraiser, Caroline hopes more people will be aware of the signs of a stroke and the importance of acting FAST – taking into consideration key symptoms such as not being able to move your face or arms, slurred speech and making sure to call an ambulance as soon as possible.
During the coronavirus pandemic, hospital admissions for strokes have fallen dramatically, something which Caroline hopes sharing her story will change.
“I know it is a really scary time but hospitals are prepared and have precautions in place to keep people safe,” she says.
“If you have symptoms, the most important thing is to get help as soon as possible because it can literally save your life. Please don’t suffer with this alone.
“Take my story as proof of the amazing things that can happen if you act quickly and get the treatment you need.”
Caroline’s fundraising page is still open for donations and can be found at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CarolineBrady4