Coming to terms with disability after a stroke

Jillian O’Boyle says despite having a walking aid and ankle brace she'll complete a mini-marathon

Jillian Ennis O'Boyle has survived mulitple strokes, had to learn to walk again twice and now plans to tackle the women's mini marathon.

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 08:59

Jillian Ennis-O’Boyle from Athboy, Co Meath, was busy running her off-licence when her knee suddenly gave way as she walked around her shop.

It was another hectic Friday on November 12th, 2010, and Ms O’Boyle, who was 32 at the time, did not worry much about the incident.

But when she woke up next morning she could not feel the bottom half of her right leg. Tests were carried out in hospital in Navan.

“Nothing major showed up. We didn’t think too much of it and went home,” she said.

But the following morning she could no longer feel both her legs below her knees and had no control of her ankles. More hospital tests were done as her symptoms worsened.

Late that night her husband Fergus kissed her goodnight. The next morning he received a call from the hospital to tell him his wife was in the intensive care unit. She was being treated for a stroke, unable to speak, suffering from facial paralysis and having difficulty moving her right side.

Wheelchair
Rehabilitation started two weeks later when she was able to get into a wheelchair, and she started to relearn how to communicate and move again.

“It was like I had the mind of a baby again. I couldn’t speak or move much, or grasp what was happening to me. Nothing worked; my muscles were not in control anymore.”

After six weeks she managed her first word, and after three months she was moved to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin.

“Then it all hit me. I suddenly realised what had happened to me. It was hard.

“But I came to terms with being disabled quickly and worked my ass off to get out of there and go home. Stubbornness and determination kept me going. I had to get on with it.”

Eventually moving home to a split-level apartment was a “big adjustment” for the couple, she remembers. “Fergus was a great help and still is. He’s always there for me.”

As the year went on she noticed her weight, which had dropped from 16st 10lb before her stroke to 11st, had begun to creep back up to 15st.

She set herself a goal to push herself to walk as far as she could each day.

Last year, after she had lost weight and joined a slimming club, she decided to do her first mini-marathon. “When I crossed that finish line I’ve never experienced anything else like it, I was on a high.”

But two months later she was hit with a series of three strokes and had to undergo a cranial bypass so she did not deteriorate further.

This time the strokes affected her “good” left side and her speech. It was seven weeks later until she was allowed to try to walk again.

“It was slow at first; I’d to start from scratch again. But thankfully I’ve recovered quickly. There’s no point crying over spilled milk. You have to keep fighting for a quality of life.”


Daily seizures
In January this year she started to experience daily seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Undeterred, she is determined to take part in the Flora Women’s Mini-Marathon (10km) in June and has gone back into training using her walking aid and ankle brace.

“It’s something for me to aim for. My leg muscles had wasted away but I’m back walking up to 6km at the moment.

“They don’t know what caused my strokes still, but I have to get on with my life.I don’t care if I’m last in the marathon as long as I pass that finish line. I’m going to do this.”

There’s a reflective, upbeat tone as she surveys the years since 2010.

“Something changed when I had the stroke.

“I used to be a negative and stressed; now I’m far happier. I laugh more and get angry less.

“I want to tell people don’t give up the fight- never give up.”