Young woman pays tribute to dad for noticing warning signs of stroke

A young woman has revealed her father’s persistence saved her life after medics deemed she was too young to have a stroke.

Claire Tollerton, from Belfast, began to experience a headache and her speech was affected, but paramedics ruled out a stroke due to the fact she was only 30.

Doctors in the emergency department put her symptoms down to a migraine, but dad Gerry (55) insisted something was seriously wrong.

It was only after two days and a raft of tests that Claire, a software tester, was diagnosed with a stroke.

Now 31, she said: “I am so lucky my dad was there. My grandparents had had strokes so he recognised the signs and insisted I go to hospital.

“I thought it was over-reacting but I just didn’t realise how sick I was. You just never expect a stroke to happen to a younger person like me.”

Claire was at home alone when she fell ill in January last year. She recalled: “It was such a strange experience. I was trying to text mum but I couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say or how to send the text message.

“My dad rang and he noticed that my speech was very slow and slurred. Luckily he lives close by and was around at my house within minutes.

“He said: ‘Do you realise you’re speaking very slowly?’. But I really didn’t know what was going on. Dad knew something was wrong and rang an ambulance.

“The rapid response medic that came to the house did a few tests and said I was too young for a stroke but dad insisted on taking me to the Ulster Hospital to get checked out. At first the doctors thought I was having a migraine but after two days of tests they realised there was a bleed on my brain and I was admitted to the stroke unit.

“It was such a shock to hear I had had a stroke. I had my bags packed to go home when they came and told me I wasn’t going anywhere. It was a really bizarre and scary experience.”

Claire spent a week in hospital and was subsequently diagnosed with a hole in her heart, which had caused the stroke.

One in four people has such a hole in their heart and most live a normal life without it ever being detected.

Before her illness Claire was being treated for a blood clot and the undiagnosed hole allowed the clot to travel to her brain. She underwent a ground-breaking procedure to close the hole in October.

“Normally they put in a device which opens like an umbrella over the hole but with me they did this stitch and I think I was one of the first people in Northern Ireland to have it done,” she said.

“I feel like one of the lucky ones because my dad saved my life but I know it’s going to take a while to fully recover.”

Claire is speaking out to coincide with a Stroke Association campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of stroke.

Brenda Maguire from the charity said: “Every second counts when you are having a stroke, so if you see any of the signs of stroke always call 999 immediately. The sooner somebody who is having a stroke gets urgent medical attention, the better their chances of a good recovery.”

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