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Locked-in syndrome survivor Clodagh Dunlop on her battle to live a normal life

PSNI officer talks about her health ordeal in new book

Clodagh Dunlop with her new book
Clodagh Dunlop with her new book

By Lisa Smyth

Inspirational stroke survivor Clodagh Dunlop has released a book about her incredible battle to overcome locked-in syndrome.

For almost three months, Clodagh, from Magherafelt in Co Londonderry, could only communicate by blinking, although her mind remained completely alert.

Now she is talking, walking and a detective in the PSNI, with a book about her health ordeal on the shelves.

Many people might think her recovery is complete. Not as far as Clodagh is concerned, however.

"I haven't given up on my recovery, I've always said I will run again, but I don't set a time limit on it," she said.

"I don't fear failing - I would rather say I'm going to run again and never run, but fail at it and keep trying."

At 40-years-old, she has spent her entire life setting out to prove people wrong, and her remarkable recovery from the devastating stroke in April 2015 is the latest example of this.

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"Even when I was at primary school, I wanted to join the police," said Clodagh.

"My uncle (Clifford Evans) was murdered during the Troubles, he was a police officer and was on a routine patrol and they were going past the Elk bar in Toome and the car he was in was shot at.

"He died in 1976, three years before I was born and while I never met him, he was always talked about.

Clodagh Dunlop in hospital
Clodagh Dunlop in hospital

"In my young mind, I romanticised going around saving people's lives and being heroic and I always wanted to be just like him.

"Mum and dad were opposed to me joining the police, my dad kept telling me it was no job for a woman, but the more he said it, the more it made me want to do it."

Clodagh fulfilled her childhood dream and was working as a response officer in Londonderry when she was left fighting for her life as a result of the stroke.

In the days afterwards, doctors warned her loved ones that she may not survive.

Even as Clodagh defied the odds, they repeatedly told her she would never walk again, but in typical fashion, she refused to accept their predictions.

"The more someone tells me I can't do something, the more determined I am to do it," she continued.

"I think that's what went through my head when they said I would be in a wheelchair forever, it made me even more determined that I wouldn't be.

"My family was told my recovery would happen for the first 18 months after the stroke and then after the first year or two, I would remain stagnant.

"But that isn't my mindset. I honestly believe that if you keep repeating your exercises and keep working hard, I will keep improving.

"I know the function on the right side of my body will never be perfect, but if I keep working at things, I know there will be improvement, I know muscles will start to fire up again."

Fitness enthusiast Clodagh is determined to continue her recovery and she trains at the gym every day to encourage her muscles to function properly.

However, she requires a specialist piece of equipment and further rehabilitation to achieve this, so hopes to fund this from the proceeds of her book.

"When I was in response, I would park up my car on the way from a night shift and go for a run," she said.

"It was about three or four miles but it was an easy run to me.

"I couldn't even walk it now but I would love to be able to run it again, I would cry with joy."

Clodagh Dunlop with her dog
Clodagh Dunlop with her dog

Going for a walk on the beach and feeling the sand between her toes would also mean the world to Clodagh.

"I don't think I would even be able to speak through the tears if I could do that," she said.

But even more important than aiding her recovery, Clodagh said she wanted to write the book to help anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation. Since suffering the stroke, she has become a passionate advocate for greater understanding and awareness of people with communication difficulties.

"It's something I feel very strongly about," she said. "Right from when I was in hospital I wanted to scream and shout about the importance of communication and I think that, ultimately, that has been the driving force behind the book.

"It has massive knock-on effects when you can't communicate, people can become very isolated and it's a horrible thing.

"When I was in Musgrave Hospital, I met lots of people who lost the ability to talk and they don't like to leave the house.

"It's life-limiting and that's really sad. I want people to understand that just because someone can't communicate in the normal way, it doesn't mean they don't understand or don't want to communicate."

She added: "I enjoyed writing the book, but I am nervous about people reading it because I'm a police officer, not a writer.

"I just hope it can help people."

Clodagh's book, A Return to Duty, is available by logging on to www.beatinglockedin.com, or from Waterstones

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