Clitheroe mum's inspiring stroke mission

Becoming wheelchair-bound in her forties was not the future a Clitheroe mum-of-five had pictured for herself.

Friday, 28th September 2018, 6:02 pm
Updated Saturday, 29th September 2018, 7:04 am
Michelle Wilkinson has pushed her body to complete a mini quadatholon in aid of charity following a stroke. (s)

In fact, the health worries of most people hitting middle age are for their ageing parents.

So at just 46-years-old, Michelle Wilkinson never thought she would suffer a stroke - a life-threatening condition which occurs when the blood supply is cut off to part of the brain.

But she refuses to let it hold her back. For Michelle, now 51, has completed a mini quadatholon to raise money for charity Different Strokes and promote awareness of the illness in younger people, including children.

Despite being wheelchair-bound, Michelle has pedalled her way to fund-raising success. (s)

She said: "My whole life was thrown into turmoil.

"I was a single mum and a driving instructor with my own business. I'd never felt healthier, as I did regular exercise. I'd only gone to the doctors with a headache when they discovered an aneurysm in my brain."

In July 2013, just two days after completing a Help For Heroes swim, Michelle underwent an MRI scan and doctors discovered the aneurysm.

A month later, she underwent a routine coiling operation, as the aneurysm had a 70% chance of bursting.

The surgery went smoothly but her recovery took a terrifying turn when she suffered a cerebral haemorrhage to her right side and was rushed to critical care where she fought for her life.

Although Michelle pulled through, she was left dependant on a carer for day-to-day tasks like showering.

"I had to give up the job I loved for many years," she said.

"My children had their whole lives ahead of them to experience new things and have adventures, not become carers for Mum. I was heartbroken. I wasn't their mum anymore. I was different. I hated myself.

"My family were distraught and I spent eight months in rehabilitation.

"As I spent so long in rehab, my youngest two had to spend three months with foster parents. They were fantastic people but it tore my heart apart."

When she returned home, the family moved to an adapted house.

"It was more turmoil for them," she added. "Words cannot describe how we would adapt to this new life-changing situation. Not knowing whether I would walk again, I promised myself I would never be away from my children for so long again and do my very hardest to be 'Mum'."

For support, she turned to two charities.

"The Stroke Association was brilliant but it's more for older people," she said.

"Different Strokes however is a charity led by younger survivors and they have a support group on Facebook for people who are my age.

"There's just no awareness of the condition in younger people and what it does to families is so sad."

That's why Michelle is determined to rebuild her life and signpost young survivors to support, starting with a goal of raising £1000 via the mini quadatholon.

She might have no feeling in her left arm and leg but Michelle has pushed her body to complete a walk, 6k bike ride, 1000m row, and a 10 length swim over two days at Clitheroe Leisure Centre with the help of a PT and physio.

"This is a very tough challenge for me, especially the walking as I have only recently walked a length outside for the first time," she said. "I can't even fasten my bra without my carer!"

"The help I've received has been amazing.

"I'd like to say a huge thank you to Ribblesdale Swimming Pool, Clitheroe, for giving me my own lane, and to Clitheroe Leisure and all the staff, plus my PT Mark Townsend, for their continued support.

"Also a massive thank you to my PA Sharon Hodgkinson and my physiotherapist Debbie Olujic, based at Appetite For Well-being at Nelson.

"They have never given up on me and have always been there to encourage me when times get difficult. They work tirelessly to keep me mobile, even though it's gruelling and painful.

"I promised myself five years ago I would give something back and fund-raise once again to help people and give them hope.

"If a stroke is survived, the majority of survivors suffer total life-changing physical and/or cognitive disabilities. I myself and my family have had to say goodbye to the old life I had for 46 years.

"But Different Strokes is a charity that helps people to take their life back in many ways. To any survivors - you can do it! Slowly, but you will. Every small achievement is a huge one. So never give up hope."

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