Natalie’s story is one of heartbreak, determination, and triumph. This mum of three needed to draw on every ounce of courage she had, not once but twice, after having two strokes in the space of
Natalie has not only overcome incredible odds, she is now inspiring other female stroke survivors.
“I was 31 and there were no warning signs at all,” said Natalie. “I was playing indoor netball and had a mini stroke.“
Thinking she’d pinched a nerve that had effected her left side Natalie played on, because there were no other visible signs. After the game everything came right and Natalie went to bed that night thinking nothing was wrong. However, Natalie woke in the early hours to find her left side was paralysed again, but this time she couldn’t walk. Her husband Muks immediately called an ambulance.
During the night Natalie had suffered a full stroke and was left with severe physical disabilities. As if that wasn’t bad enough, at the hospital she found out she was pregnant and heartbreakingly lost her baby.
Once Natalie was discharged from hospital, she and her husband were left on their own - unaware that the Stroke Foundation existed. After having gone through what would have defeated most people, for the sake of her husband and three young daughters, Natalie was determined not to let her stroke beat her.
“It took me about a year to walk properly. But I wanted to be there for my kids,” explains Natalie. “I wanted to be able to pick up my one-year-old again.”
Fast forward nine years to last year, Natalie’s life was in a wonderful place. But just like that, her second stroke hit.
“I was at home having a coffee, when all of a sudden I got really hot and started throwing up. It was very different from the first stroke,” Natalie explains. “I passed out and woke up in hospital a week and half later.”
Natalie required three surgeries to save her life and her symptoms this time were even worse. Natalie lost the use of her right side, was deaf in one ear and lost her peripheral vision on the left side.
Natalie didn’t know how she was going to cope. And on top of her physical issues, she had to deal with severe emotional trauma, extending back to her first stroke and losing the baby - something she’d tried to block out.
Fortunately Natalie and Muks were told about the Stroke Foundation at the Rehab Plus centre. As soon as they got home, their Community Stroke Advisor (CSA) Paula was there and with them every step of the way. Together they set goals and Paula was always on hand to give encouragement, provide vital information, advocate on Natalie’s behalf and make referrals. Paula also introduced Natalie to our Return to Work service.
It seems incredible now, but we can proudly say that Natalie is making great progress. She also has a wonderful new home, on a beautiful 12-ache plot, and has just secured a job as netball coach at a local college. Netball is Natalie’s passion and she was so well regarded by the netball community they wanted her to take the two-day-a-week position regardless of her ongoing physical issues.
“I feel very excited,” exclaims Natalie. “Paula, and Rachelle from Return to Work, were so encouraging. They gave me the confidence to go for it.”
But Natalie’s story doesn’t end there. With Paula’s encouragement, Natalie has also set up a Facebook group for young stroke survivors; seeing that there was nothing available in Auckland for a younger demographic. And after an incredible response, she has since created a coffee group so that everyone could meet face-to-face, encourage each other, share their issues and triumphs, and create new friendships. Paula also attends to offer support and guidance to those who need it.
Natalie’s husband Muks is incredibly proud of his wife, and knows that ongoing support from Paula will enable Natalie to continue to make great strides with her ongoing physical and emotional recovery this year.
“One of the scary things coming from rehab to your home environment is being left alone. Having community support is really important,“ explains Muks.
It’s a real testament to Natalie’s courage that she has come so far, once again. She is an inspiration to all stroke survivors!
One of the most common misconceptions about stroke is that it only affects older people. In a recent survey only 13% of New Zealanders believed that stroke affected those under 30 years of age.
Stroke can strike at any age, as Monique and her family devastatingly discovered after their son Gabriel was diagnosed as having a stroke at birth.
“I noticed about a week and half after he was born that Gabriel’s hand was clenched,” Monique explains. “Then his hand would get smelly because it was always clenched.”
Monique raised the issue about Gabriel’s hand during regular checks but nobody, including Monique, could have imagined what the actual cause was. It wasn’t until six months later, when a doctor was in the room during a check up, that Gabriel was referred to a specialist. But even then Monique had no idea of the news she was about to receive.
“I honestly didn’t think anything of it so I just went on my own,” Monique reveals. “It was a big shock. It felt like a bombshell.”
Monique barely remembers what was said after that, but just knew that as a mum she would do anything she could for her son.
“I had no clue what it meant,” continues Monique. “So I went home and researched, but there’s not a lot of info about what having a stroke means for little kids.”
For a parent, one of the worst and most emotional things is having to “wait and see” how the stroke has affected their child - often not knowing the outcome until key developmental stages have occurred.
“You assume your child’s going to walk, your child’s going to talk, your child’s going to do all these things… and you never think otherwise,” acknowledges Monique. “So the milestones were the big ones. Him standing ... it was just the best moment.”
Monique holds back tears of joy when she describes the day Gabriel first stood. You can imagine her relief.
Gabriel’s speech came quickly too. However, as Gabriel grew up it was apparent his left side had been affected, especially his left leg and arm. Gabriel was not going to be able to run and play like most kids.
Heading into the critical school years, Gabriel and his family needed help after returning to New Zealand from two years overseas, and having lost touch with key contacts.
That’s when Monique found the Stroke Foundation and met Jo Kelly, one of our dedicated Community Stroke Advisors (CSAs). Jo has worked closely with Gabriel and the family ever since.
Some of the most critical elements to the support our CSAs provide are information, advice, referral and advocacy. Jo helped Monique investigate what rehab options were available to young survivors, along with identifying and referring the family to other community agencies. Jo then linked the family with other young stroke survivor families by introducing them at the annual Stroke Kids Day Out she organises. Gabriel quickly made friends.
Jo has also helped Gabriel get involved with adaptive sports. He now plays football with his friends and Jo makes regular applications through a youth fund for private swimming lessons, which Gabriel really enjoys.
Gabriel is now 11 years old and, despite some ongoing physical challenges, he is thriving. And there’s a lot Gabriel would like to do when he grows up.
“At the moment I want to be a cartoonist. I haven’t really decided on any particular style yet but I’m certainly busy with it,” Gabriel explains. “Dad and I are also coming up with a comic book called ‘Insurance Man’. It’s just a joke but we thought it might make a good comic strip.”
Gabriel spends hours a day reading about comic book drawing. His favourite comic strip is Calvin & Hobbes. His Mum says it’s because he’s very much like Calvin himself.
We look forward to seeing Gabriel’s progress - his budding career is off to a promising start!