Published: 00:01, 18 May 2014
Elizabeth Ashmore was your typical 20-year-old, enjoying clubbing with friends, shopping and going for meals with her boyfriend.
But overnight her life changed forever when she woke up completely paralysed down one side of her body.
Terror set in when the university student tried to stand but collapsed in a heap on the floor, unable to move.
She had suffered a major stroke which, initially, she was not expected to survive.
As her distraught family and boyfriend Luke gathered round her K&C Hospital bed, they did not know whether she would pull through – or what she would be like if she did.
Three months on, after intensive physiotherapy which involved learning to walk all over again, Elizabeth has finally been allowed to return home to Norman Road, Canterbury.
Now she has bravely relived the harrowing day everything changed.
She explained: “I’d had a normal day at home on the Sunday but after dinner I had a massive headache I couldn’t get rid of. I went to bed, but couldn’t stop shaking.”
Her mum Sue thought she was just poorly but her condition deteriorated the next morning.
“My mum tried to stand me up, but I collapsed,” she said. “I didn’t know what was happening. My mouth was drooping and I couldn’t move my left arm at all or lift my leg.”
Paramedics took her to hospital but initially ruled out the possibility of a stroke because of Elizabeth’s age.
The hours that followed were a blur. The next thing she remembers is waking up in a stroke ward attached to a drip and blood pressure monitor, surrounded by other victims – all elderly.
She said: “When I woke up, I was really upset. I didn’t understand where I was and I was screaming because the monitor was tight on my arm. Then it hit me that I was paralysed.
“My boyfriend came to visit and all I could do was a thumbs up sign. I was just staring at him. I also lost my memory – I couldn’t even tell the time, which was scary.”
Tests revealed Elizabeth had suffered a middle cerebral artery infarct, which is a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain.
It could have been brought on by the kidney condition nephritic syndrome, which can cause blood clotting.
Elizabeth feared she may never walk again but the prospect of losing her personality was more terrifying.
She said: “It was upsetting, because doctors didn’t know if I’d be the same person I was before.
“The nurses were brilliant and the physios and occupational therapists were amazing.
“I was lucky my leg started moving in week three. I never thought I’d have to learn to stand up and walk again.
“It was scary and really emotional at first. I used to cry because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it.”
Despite being confined to her hospital ward, she was able to enjoy pizza with Luke on Valentine’s Day and was even allowed to go for a meal at Cafe du Soleil for Mother’s Day.
She said: “I was finally leaving the hospital after six weeks – the only place I really knew anything about any more.
“We drove through Canterbury, which hasn’t changed. I had watched my body change so much in the space of six weeks, I honestly thought something drastic would have changed in Canterbury too.”
Elizabeth is still unable to move her left arm, hand, ankle or toes. She walks with a stick and uses a wheelchair, but is getting stronger every day.
Before the stroke, she would start her day by showering, drying her hair, getting dressed, applying her make-up and eating breakfast – all using both hands.
Now, she is getting to grips with coping with just one.
She said: “It’s made me realise how much people take things for granted. I watch people using both hands and it upsets me. You don’t think you’ll lose something so big, so young.
“Everything has changed. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact my hand might not ever work again. It’s a case of getting life back to how it was before, but in a different way.”
Having to rely on others is a challenge for someone who was once so fiercely independent.
As well as studying graphic design at UCA, she also had a part-time job as a sales assistant in Fenwick.
“Everything has changed. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact my hand might not ever work again. It’s a case of getting life back to how it was before, but in a different way" - Elizabeth Ashmore
Looking back, Elizabeth now realises there may have been warning signs, including an incident on January 5 when her arm went numb.
She said: “At the time, I joked ‘imagine if it stopped working’. I never expected it to actually happen.”
She even visited A&E, but medics said it was a trapped nerve.
Although they are relatively rare – with 75% of strokes affecting the over 65s – Elizabeth is speaking out to raise awareness of the fact it can happen to younger people.
She added: “I want people to know the symptoms and get checked out if they show signs of any. Don’t assume that just because you’re young, it won’t happen. It’s scary to think I nearly died but you just have to get on with it. You learn to not take things for granted. I’m stronger than I was before.”
Elizabeth’s boyfriend Luke Elliott is running 30km in June to raise money for the Stroke Association in Elizabeth’s name. Donate at www.justgiving.com/runforrehab14.
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