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She's my hero, says husband of woman who battled back from stroke

By Eimear Rabbitte

A man whose wife suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 40 has spoken of her "inspirational" journey on the road to recovery.

Allan Leonard's wife Beverley spent 10 days in intensive care and five months in a specialist hospital after a severe brain stem stroke in 2012.

Originally from Belfast, but living in Ballygowan, Co Down, Beverley (45) had to learn how to swallow, speak, eat and walk again with the help of staff at the regional acquired brain injury unit at Musgrave Park Hospital.

"It will be five years at the end of the month, it's been quite a journey for both of us," Allan told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Bev returned home at the end of summer 2012. She has had some more occupational/physiotherapy, and learned how to walk again. She took some steps a year after the injury and it's just been working on improving that, speaking and everything since then. She had to learn how to swallow and get her breathing right," Allan explained.

"I remember the first night she was back in our home, when she went to sleep she was breathing really laboriously. It reminded me how difficult the essential things were for her. Those were the early months... now she is very well recovered and we plan to keep doing this together."

Beverley, who uses a walking frame to get around, stays as active as she can and often goes to favourite haunt Castle Espie wetland reserve in Comber with her carer.

Allan spoke of his wife's determination to get back on her feet, her positive outlook and her refusal to give up despite significant challenges.

"There was a moment when she asked me why I stood by her and I replied: 'Because you never gave up'.

"Just to be part of sharing that experience with somebody who was doing everything they could do to get better… never feeling sorry for herself or thinking she couldn't do anything, who every single day only got stronger and better, how could I leave someone as inspirational as that?"

Allan and Beverley have been campaigning to raise awareness of the prevalence of strokes among young people. "Stroke is the blockage of oxygen to the brain. It's stereotypically associated with older people, but this can happen to anyone," Allan said. The couple are also hugely supportive of research done by Stroke Association into the emotional impact of brain injuries, a support Allan says is currently lacking in Northern Ireland.

"An important part is providing resources to help survivors with emotional consequences - something we are not good at. Everything physical they do requires effort that may not be apparent, and it can be difficult for people to process the trauma of having a brain injury.

"I would say that Northern Ireland has some of the best services for physical recovery from a brain injury, but we're not so good when it comes to help dealing with the emotional side."

Allan will take part in the Stroke Association's Resolution 10km Run at Queen's Sport, Belfast, next Sunday (26th) at 11am. All money raised from the 5K/10K event will help support stroke survivors in Northern Ireland.

  • To take part, visit www.stroke.org.uk/resolution before February 19

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