Taught to walk by a toddler …

       … after a double cerebral aneurysm

Sam Furniss

Sam Furniss thinks herself lucky that she’s survived a double cerebral aneurysm. And more than lucky that little Ella Rose was there to help

When Sam Furniss suffered a double cerebral aneurysm two years ago, things looked bleak. So much so that the doctors took her husband Michael to one side and explained that she might not make it. They explained that even if she survived the double stroke, she would probably be permanently brain damaged. What they didn’t know was just how motivated she would be to regain her health, and how her little daughter, Ella Rose, just a toddler at the time, would play a vital role in her recovery.

She endured hours and days of slow, painstaking stroke treatment, but she also had something special on her side, something that the doctors couldn’t provide – an unshakable attitude of determination, the support of her husband Michael, and her little daughter, Ella Rose, who proved to be a guide, a teacher (of sorts), and an inspiration.

What is a stroke?

Just exactly what is a stroke? A cerebral aneurysm (the technical term for a stroke) is the result of a tiny blood vessel in the brain bursting, or forming a clot. Either way, it disrupts the blood flow to a part of the brain, affecting certain cognitive and motor abilities – it’s common for speech to be affected, as well as mobility.

Incidentally, it’s as well to be aware of stroke symptoms, so that you can recognise them quickly. The sooner a stroke victim receives medical treatment, the better the chances of recovery. Stroke symptoms usually appear suddenly, and stroke symptoms can vary quite widely, depending of what part of the brain is affected.

The face might be affected, with the stroke victim unable to smile or speak coherently, or move their mouth normally. The stroke victim’s mobility can be affected also, making it difficult or impossible for them to raise one or both arms and keep them raised.

If you suspect a stroke, call for emergency medical assistance – time really is of the essence. The longer a region of the brain is without blood, the higher the likelihood that the injury will have permanent consequences.

Stroke recovery

When Sam was recovering, the surgeon would hold up a pen and ask her what it was, and though she was screaming “Pen!” in her mind, she couldn’t form the word. This is one of the frustrating effects of a stroke – you know a word, but you can’t say it. Or you know what an item is, but you can’t put a name to it.

The part of her brain that dealt with language had been damaged by the cerebral aneurysm, which is common among stroke victims. She struggled to form words and to make sense of language for a long time, and eventually, with regular stroke treatment, she made it. One of the things that helped her was having little Ella Rose around, who was only 10 months old at the time of her medical emergency. The bond she shared with Ella Rose proved to be the perfect tonic.

“I remember hearing her start to babble away to me”, she says. “I listened to the sounds she made and I was determined to do the same.”

When she was finally allowed home, Sam focused on watching Ella learning to walk. Like all children, Ella Rose didn’t manage it first time – she faltered again and again, but she kept trying, even when she fell over. She never gave up.

“We learned how to walk together,” says Sam, proudly. “I watched her putting one foot in front of the other, and knew I had to do it too.”

Recent tests have shown that Sam has made about an 80% recovery overall due to appropriate stroke treatment, taking into account mobility and cognitive difficulties. Sam puts her recovery down largely to Ella Rose, and the determination she learned from her.

“Every now and again I mourn the life I lost, but then I think, so what if I can get a little confused, and so what if I need a walking stick and a wheelchair. I simply couldn’t have recovered as well as I have without the support of Michael, and of course, Ella Rose.”

The Sunday Mirror (17 February 2013) tells how she now works with two charities, Headway, which provides help and support for people affected by brain injury (the result of cerebral aneurysm and other causes), and Neurocare, which raises money to buy life saving equipment for the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield . It’s her way of giving something back and helping others who have suffered cerebral aneurysms and other brain injuries. As Luke Griggs, spokesman for Headway, says,

“In bravely sharing her and her family’s experiences of brain injury, Sam has demonstrated that with the right help and support, there can be life after brain injury.”

Determination is key in recovering from a cerebral aneurysm

What can we learn from Sam’s experience? Well, as Luke Griggs says, there can be life after brain injury. We shouldn’t assume that the damage done is permanent and can never be undone. That kind of assumption can be disastrous, because it closes the mind to any chance of recovery. Once we make the opposite assumption, that things can change for the better, we are immediately motivated to do what we can to make it happen.

There’s also a simple lesson in there, that we can always learn something, even if from a little child. Every child faces a multitude of challenges, both big and small, day after day, and learns only by constantly remaining strong and motivated. It’s our default setting, the way we’ve learned, each and every one of us, to do all the ‘simple’ things in life that we so easily and all too often take for granted.

And yet life has a way of beating us down and making us settle for second best, or even nothing at all. What we can learn from little children is that it’s not how many times you fall over that counts, but how many times you get back up.

Determination

Just keep doing it, and doing it, no matter what, and don’t be put off that you’re faltering or making mistakes. An attitude of real determination in extreme circumstances can make all the difference. A mistake is just another name for a learning opportunity. Accept your mistakes … welcome them … they’re signs that you’re still in there fighting, and getting better at something, even if ever so slowly.

Yes, you’re faltering, and sometimes you’re falling over, but you’re trying. Just keep getting back up. Get back up and carry on. It’s a lesson well worth remembering.

As Churchill once remarked:

“When you’re going through hell … keep going!”

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