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Meet Debbie Matthew, who is living with stroke

Debbie Matthew

Debbie Matthew, 41 from Perthshire

Debbie, a tax assistant with a husband and 8 year old son, suffered a stroke last year (March 2016) at the age of 40. Here’s her story of her recovery so far.

“I had my stroke on Easter Sunday last year and it happened completely out of the blue. I had no warning signs at all. Because of where we live it took an hour for the ambulance to arrive. At the hospital my husband was told I’d had a stroke and that I needed a number of tests but that the next 12 hours were critical. At this point he didn’t know if I was going to make it or not.

The first thing I remember of this time is two days after the stroke when I woke up to see my mum and husband sitting next to me. I couldn’t move my leg or arm and my speech was slurred.

My initial recovery felt really slow. First I got my speech and eyesight back but I was still unable to stand or wiggle my toes. I could just about move my arm but my co-ordination wasn’t good at all. To help me focus I set myself mini targets each week. For example, one week my target was to hold a ball.

I think my ‘can do’ attitude really helped me during this time. I was determined to get myself out of hospital. I made sure I listened to the advice I was given and I did my exercises as regularly as I could. I make sure I still do them as regularly today.

Returning home after over six weeks in hospital wasn’t easy. Every day there were different hurdles to overcome. I felt really anxious about it even though I was obviously desperate to get home but I was worried about leaving the safety of the hospital and whether I would be able to cope.

I came across Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS) online and saw that there was a stroke group in the area. After a chat with the CHSS Regional Community Support Worker I went along to the group for the first time. It was a great step forward for me. Just talking to others helped. I hadn’t spoken to anyone for a long time apart from my family or nursing staff and I was feeling increasingly isolated from other people. It makes a difference just to talk to other people who know what you are going through and it was great to get out of the house and do something different. Nobody judges you, we had so many laughs, and plenty of tea.

Recovery is challenging and it takes time. At first you see a lot of small changes and you keep improving which helps you to stay positive and focused. Then you also see some big changes such as when you go from not being able to walk to walking again. But as time goes on you have to face the fact that some things may not improve any more. For example, I’m not sure my leg is going to get better so that is something I will have to cope with for the rest of my life. I still have days when I’m very emotional and these are hard and difficult days but I try to remind myself about how far I’ve come in the last year.
I am determined to turn something bad in to something good. I take any opportunity I can to spread awareness about stroke and how to reduce your risk of a stroke. I want my new goal in life to be to support people living after stroke. I want to be able to spread the word that while stroke can happen to anyone, it is possible to get your life back on track.

It’s hard not to worry that you might have another stroke but I’ve taken steps to reduce my risk in lots of ways. I’ve given up work to reduce stress. I make sure I go every 8 weeks to my GP for blood pressure checks. I have also lost weight and changed my eating habits to make sure I’m healthier.