Carrie Minagh used to be all go, rushing and racing, making plans. Now she simply lives for the moment, enjoys the smaller things, and counts herself lucky to be alive every day.
That’s the big change since May 28, 2014, when at just 33, she suffered a horrific stroke which left her unable to walk or speak. Weeks in hospital were followed by nine months of rehabilitation in Dun Laoghaire where her determination shone through as she began a remarkable journey to re-learn how to walk, read, write, and communicate again.
Today, Carrie, a student in Moate Business College, sits before me smiling and full of positivity as she recalls how her stroke story unfolded and how blessed she is to make a full recovery.
The words “crazy” and “lucky” punctuate her conversation repeatedly, and to be honest it’s hard to argue with that description when you realise that there are six weeks of her life that Carrie has no memory of at all.
Of that fateful day, it started out normally with everyday things, bringing her dog for a walk, driving her father to Ballinasloe, but she was stopped in her tracks with a terrible headache.
“I got an awful pain in my head, it was like the worst pain of my life. I've always had headaches, but this was so bad. It was so bad I didn't know what to do,” she said.
Carrie made her way back to Athlone, it improved and she had dinner with her mother. Afterwards, she felt tired and lay down on the couch.
“I got the second pain, I was like oh my God. She (mother) looked at me, and whatever way she looked at me, she just said 'I think you need to go to Ballinasloe'”.
She bundled her daughter into the car and rushed her to A&E and along the way she began to lose her vision. A scan revealed that the Athlone native had suffered a bleed on the brain or a stroke, and within hours she was in an ambulance on the way to Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, where she later underwent surgery.
“I spent over five weeks in Dublin and I didn't know anyone, I didn't know my mother or my father.”
Amazingly, the next memory she has is of being moved back to Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, and the only reason Carrie remembers that is that her bed was away from the window and the opposite way around.
Later she recalls being in a wheelchair in the hospital wondering was she in a car accident or what exactly had happened to her.
“It’s so strange, you can’t get anything (words) out and you’re thinking what’s going on?”
A fan of Crossfit before her stroke, Carrie reckons that without it she may not be alive today. She believes the fitness and muscle she had developed doing regular classes helped her because in the aftermath of having the stroke she lost a massive seven stone.
She is also hugely thankful to staff in Portiuncula who made sure she didn't stay in the wheelchair, who encouraged her to try and walk with the aid of a frame. Four weeks after arriving back she was allowed home. Luckily though, her return home was shortlived as within days she got a place in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire and it was then her real recovery journey began.
"I lost power on the right hand side so I had to learn how to write again, talk, everything all over again. It took a lot of work,” she recalls.
She gasps many times as the gravity of what happened to her really hits home, and there’s a modest pride in how the Athlone woman has rebuilt her life over the last four years.
“When you go to Dun Laoghaire it really opens your eyes. It’s kind of scary, because this can happen to anyone of any age,” she says, adding the statistic that brings that home is the fact one in five people have a stroke in their lifetime.
There were tears on the first day, but from there on she developed a kind of single-minded focus and determination to get well.
“When I was so sick, I got better by doing it my way. I kept everyone out. As far as I was concerned I was focusing on myself and that's how I got through it, " she explains candidly, thanking her family and staff in Portiuncula, Beaumont, Dun Laoghaire and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABI) for all they did to help her.
What followed was nine months of a daily routine of pool sessions, gym, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and a lot of hard work, Carrie admits.
“You had to focus, you had to put things in perspective. I never would have told people what was going on. I just told myself ‘you have to do this' ".
“I’m just very lucky that everything came back,” she says. While there she met many people her own age in the same situation and the friendships formed helped on the difficult days and they stay in touch now online supporting one another.
Asked if this experience changed her, she nods: “I am stronger because when you are put in there (Dun Laoghaire) you’re left with nothing and you have to build yourself back up again. It just takes time."
"It’s so worth it, even though it was hard work,” she says, and after nine months of rehab, she returned home and set about rebuilding her life step by step. Carrie later enrolled in a Freshstart course in National Learning Network for the year, and progressed to Moate Business College where she completed the Healthcare Assistant course.
She also attends a Life After Stroke group in Ballinasloe several times a year which is very helpful.
Now, she is studying community development in Moate, and it's an area she would really like to work at some point. The Athlone woman doesn't use the word future much or look too far ahead anymore, that's as a result of all she has been through, and while she still gets tired and needs regular rest and check ups, she is doing well.
The stroke did change her, she says, but Carrie believes it happened for a reason.
“Carrie then was always up for the laugh and had a good time. Carrie now is more quiet and more thoughtful," she says. “It's crazy, I can't believe I'm actually alive. I would have been always been making plans but I don't now. I live for the day now.
"The way I look at it, it happened for me for a good reason. My life was always so hectic, I was always rushing, rushing. Now I don’t rush anymore, I’m more relaxed.
“It’s just crazy I could be dead, that’s the way I look at it,” she ends.