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Polly’s story

“I have faced lots of setbacks in my life but learning to live with COPD is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced”

Polly Hoad, 67, lives in the West Highlands. An artist and designer, she is a stroke survivor who now lives with COPD, a respiratory disease that causes breathing difficulties.

But she hasn’t let her health conditions get her down and is determined to live life to the full.

Paralysing stroke

I had a stroke at the age of 45 and was left paralysed on my right-hand side, blind in the right side of both eyes and with sever speech restrictions. I could only walk and talk backwards.

My stroke also left me with an untreatable condition known as Central Pain Syndrome, which caused different pain sensations in the right side of my body.

I had heard about a new type of treatment called Deep Brain Stimulation, which is often used for Parkinson’s patient to control a severe tremor.

I volunteered for the procedure in the hope it would improve the symptoms caused by my stroke.

I was wide awake during the brain surgery. And, during the surgery itself, I was suddenly able to speak more clearly again! This was a happy side effect of the area of the brain that was being stimulated.

Living with COPD

Several years after my stroke, I was diagnosed with COPD. I have faced lots of setbacks in my life but learning to live with COPD is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced.

I was diagnosed with COPD about 10 years ago, but it was at a very low level, and I only used a very basic inhaler once or twice a day. But the last 18 months have been very difficult. In April 2020, I came back to the UK from India where I usually live for half of the year, and my health was normal.

But about two months later, I got a virus, and I was taken to hospital where they said it was a flare-up of COPD. I was tested for Covid-19 and other lung conditions to rule them out. However, I have not recovered full health since then.

In lockdown, I wasn’t getting any exercise, because I couldn’t go out and I was waiting for cataract surgery. Then, in April 2021, I fell and broke my wrist in three places, so I really lost my confidence about going out by myself and it all compounded to negatively affect my breathing.

I haven’t had winter in the UK since my COPD flared up, and I’m very cautious about what the next few months will bring.

Walking again

I was referred to Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland and set up with someone who would walk with me. I’d lost so much confidence because of the fall and because of my breathing.

Unfortunately, there was a delay in starting that as the volunteer hadn’t finished her training. I got impatient and was worried about the impending winter and decided I had to do this myself. My house is up a hill, so I thought I would just walk to the first lamp post from my house, then to the second, then to the third and then to the bench at the bottom of the road.

I’ve already managed to walk down to the village and back, and that’s been a great boost to my confidence. My target is now to do that walk and go up and down the flight of steps in the village, all 10 of them, four times.

I want to return to India, but I need to be able to climb those steps in Ullapool four times before I even think about it because there are 40 steps to my front door in India. I have to retrain my body and strengthen my legs and my breathing.

I’ve already managed the steps once. I’m aiming for January to be able to do it four times without stopping. The weather is going to be horrible, and it might be hard to get out, but my optimistic side has to keep that little spark alive.

People are leaving hospital feeling scared and alone. You can change that.

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