One of Britain’s youngest stroke survivors had to re-learn how to walk after suffering the debilitating brain bleed – aged just THREE.
Maddie Greenwood, 12, suffered a catastrophic stroke at the age of three and her parents were told that she would never walk again, despite learning how to toddle just months before.
It marked the beginning of a ‘horrendous’ journey for Maddie – who gradually re-learned how to move, walk and speak.
Maddie’s mother Claire Redfern, of Headington, Oxon. recalled the morning in April 2008 her little daughter woke up limp and unresponsive.
She said: “She woke up that morning and opened her eyes. I remember saying ‘It’s time to wake up’.
“But she was very lethargic. My then-husband lifted her up and laid her on the sofa and she was still unresponsive. I remember thinking ‘This is weird’.”
When Maddie failed to respond, her parents called 111 and were told to go straight to A&E.
Consultants said Maddie had had a stroke and she was diagnosed with hemiplegia – complete paralysis of the right side of her body.
Mrs Redfern said: “You don’t think it can happen to a child. I went outside and was silently crying because I didn’t know what it meant.”
Maddie, a pupil at Rye St Anthony School in Oxford, said: “Some days it’s grey for me. I think, oh my goodness, why did this happen to me? It’s very hard.
“But I stay positive. I try to smile every day and do what’s best and carry on. No matter what happens you have to keep going.”
Today Maddie struggles with English and maths due to her processing skills being impaired.
But she is also highly creative and a champion swimmer, representing Richmond at the London Youth Games with a plastic splint in her leg.
Across the UK strokes occur about 152,000 times a year and is on the rise among young people, with one in five victims under the age of 55.
Ellis Elliott, from Cowley, had a stroke on Easter Sunday this year while undergoing a double heart valve replacement in hospital in Newcastle.
The 25-year-old, who works at Harwell’s science and technology campus, woke up in intensive care paralysed on one side.
She said: “It was really scary. I couldn’t speak. I wanted to write how I was feeling but couldn’t communicate at all.”
One month on Miss Elliott is still struggling with aphasia, which affects the ability to understand and process speech, and is only now beginning to write again.
But she has bounced back and is preparing to take on the Stroke Association’s Step Out for Stroke event in Abingdon, Oxon., on June 10.
With loved ones, colleagues and the family dog Jack in tow, she and best friend Poppy Townsend are aiming to raise £1,250 to support the charity’s work.
She said: “I would like to raise awareness. When I was in hospital I was on my iPad, Googling everything, because I wanted answers.
“I feel like it’s really not common knowledge that it happens to young adults. I want people to know stroke can happen at any age.”
Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association, said: “Childhood stroke is often extremely frightening and stressful for children and their families.
“Far too few people realise a child can have a stroke. Whatever age you are, when stroke strikes, quick diagnosis is vital.”
The mother of one of Britain’s youngest stroke survivors said it ‘didn’t dawn on her’ that her three-year-old daughter could have suffered a stroke.
Despite doctors’ initial belief that she might not walk again, brave Maddie, now 12, can run, walk and has been a competitive swimmer.
Mum Claire Redfern, 42, said she was ‘devastated’ when her daughter was diagnosed with hemiplegia – just weeks after she discovered her husband was having an affair.
Claire, a fundraiser who now lives in Oxford, said: “You just don’t expect it.
“My husband had left me a few weeks before for another woman, so I was already emotionally distraught, and he was staying at our house babysitting when she had the stroke.
“We got her to hospital and they kept asking if she’d banged her head, but nothing had happened.
“We didn’t see a consultant that afternoon, so we didn’t know what was wrong with her, but she was unresponsive and slipping in and out of consciousness.
“It didn’t dawn on me that she could have had a stroke, but in the morning, the doctors saw her and that was the first thing they said.
“They mentioned hemiplegia and I immediately recognised the term because I worked at a school with children with the condition, and when they said she might’ve had a stroke I was in complete disbelief.
“I didn’t know what strokes meant in a young person – there were no campaigns or awareness – so I had no idea.
“I don’t remember what else the consultant said, I just remember going outside and literally just crouching down on the ground and silently crying.
“It was so hard not knowing what it meant or even what questions to think about – I was absolutely devastated and felt so alone.”
Maddie was kept under 24 hour watch at Kingston Hospital before she was transferred to St George’s Hospital, Tooting, for an MRI scan.
There, she started to show signs of recovery, and could sit up using the left side of her body, but remained on the ward for two weeks.
Claire says after Maddie was discharged, her biggest support was daily physiotherapy visits to their home.
Claire added: “We were in hospital for two weeks assessing everything that can be affected by strokes, and it was really scary – the registrar said she might not walk again.
“I was pretty devastated – I went from thinking we were having another baby to my husband having an affair and my daughter having a stroke.
“My husband just couldn’t prioritise, and that was the biggest emotional torment – he couldn’t say to this other person that he’d had a crisis which he needed to focus on.
“We came into community care, and the physios were my strongest support.
“It was really tough not knowing what to do, and it was a shock to my system coming to terms with it.
“Emotionally, it wasn’t that tough because when you’re a mother you just do everything you can, it was just what I had to do and I had more problems emotionally with my husband.
“I don’t often pause to reflect upon the journey we’ve been on and are still on, you just do it – it’s your child and you just carry on.
“For primary carers, you’re just focused on that and it’s what you’re here to do – you want to protect and nuture your child to become strong and independent, and the best they can be.”
Nine years on, Maddie is able to walk, run, and enjoys playing netball – although she only uses her left hand.
She wears a splint on her leg, which helps to keep her foot flat and give her stability, but Claire says she is ‘self-conscious’ about the way it looks.
Maddie has also been a competitive swimmer, and is capable of beating able-bodied classmates despite her disability.
Claire said: “We try and encourage her to do things bi-manually the whole time.
“Her right arm is ‘floating’ – it sits at 45 degrees to her body – and it’s stiff.
“She can cuddle a teddy bear or something like that, but in a reactive situation she does everything with her left hand.
“She can’t really use her fingers, but she has gross motor skills.
“She went through a phase of not wanting to wear the splint on her leg, but she kept going over on her ankle. She hates how it looks.
“Considering what happened, she’s very mobile, and it was kind of amazing that she did so well with swimming.
“She really enjoyed it, and getting a gold medal made her feel good about it.
“You see her walking around and you’d wonder how she did it, but she’s brilliant, and it’s good for her brain and her body.”
Claire hopes the new guidelines, issued by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, will help raise awareness of childhood strokes.
She is also hoping they will ‘make it easier for new parents’ who have to endure their child suffering from a stroke.
Claire added: “These new guidelines are really important, and we need more awareness – childhood strokes are more common than people think.
“I’m hoping these new guidelines will make it easier for new parents that go through what I went through.
“Community support is so important, and having people to talk to really helps.
“The accessibility of information is much better now, but any healthcare professionals who visit your home needs to know what facilities there are locally.
“We had one nurse who was a great talker,and she told us about some local groups.
“I was feeling really isolated, so I went after five weeks with Maddie, and I could tell as soon as we went through the door that they knew what they were doing.
“I could see she was comfortable and safe, and I hadn’t been able to leave her with anybody because it was like having a slightly dangerous, mobile newborn.
“It was the first time I sat down and had a coffee and could just breathe – I will never forget that moment.”