Clodagh on road to recovery after locked-in syndrome
Stroke survivor Clodagh Dunlop has finally got back her independence after collecting her specially adapted car.
The policewoman from Magherafelt is expected to begin a phased return to work this week as a result of the momentous milestone in her recovery.
Clodagh (37) was left with locked-in syndrome as a result of a massive stroke in April last year.
She spent months trapped inside her body, unable to move, speak or swallow, and was only able to communicate by blinking after a devastating brain stem stroke.
"I feel like I can breathe again," she said.
"I had three goals after my stroke and they were to drive again, to get back to work and to run again, and I've managed two out of three of them now."
Clodagh, crowned the Belfast Telegraph's Woman of the Year in June, collected her black Mini Cooper from JKC in Coleraine on Saturday afternoon, alongside her partner Adrian.
And she spent most of the weekend out and about, getting back into her old routine.
"I drove home and then drove myself to my sister's house and when I arrived, my niece, who is only three, actually screamed in delight," she said.
"I stayed and had a cup of tea, which is what I would have done before the stroke, just popping round to my sister's for a cup of tea.
"Then Adrian and I went out for dinner and I drove, and we went to the cinema on Sunday afternoon and I drove again.
"It's so nice to have my independence back again and it's a nice break for Adrian, as he has had to drive me everywhere for the past 18 months.
"He's gone from being my chauffeur to being my driving instructor, because I am a little nervous to be back on the road after all this time.
"I think it will take me a few months to get my confidence back, but it's a great step forward in my independence."
Clodagh's new car has been adapted as her right side was worst affected by the stroke.
It is an automatic, has a lollipop grip to help her steer, and the pedals have been moved to cater for the fact that she is left side-dominant.
Getting back behind the wheel also means that Clodagh is finally able to fulfil her dream to return to work.
While she won't be going back to response, where she worked before her stroke, she will be working with the district support team. This will involve preparing and reviewing case files and any other administration work.
"I'm so excited to get back to work and getting my old life back," said Clodagh.
"I feel like I am getting the old Clodagh back, although I'm not the same Clodagh any more.
"I'm definitely more empathetic now, because I have met so many people since my stroke who are going through difficult times.
"You speak to people and you don't know what they're dealing with, so I am mindful of that now and I never want to add to their problems.
"So I always make sure I take more time now, and be as friendly as I can be."
Clodagh defied medical predictions and has made a miraculous recovery from the major stroke that doctors warned might kill her.
She is now able to get around her house without any mobility aids and she walks two to three miles a day on a treadmill.
She remains optimistic that one day she will once more be able to enjoy her passion for running.
"I was so fit before and I feel like your body doesn't forget how to run, so I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do it again," she added.
"My mobility has already improved so much and I know that if I work hard, I will be able to run again.
"It may take a few years, but I will get there if I keep working hard at it."