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Remarkable Niall Woods battles back after six months in coma

By Lisa Smyth

The remarkable courage of a man left in a coma for six months after suffering a stroke when he was just 19 has been celebrated.

Niall Woods (26) had to learn to walk and talk again after the devastating blow.

Last night he picked up the Adult Courage Award at the Stroke Association's Life After Stroke Awards.

His proud parents, Caroline and Tommy, saw Niall, from south-east Belfast, recognised for the inspirational way he has faced the aftermath of the injury.

Caroline said: "For a few days after the stroke we didn't know whether he would make it. It was horrific.

"I was at home and I got a phone call from his now ex-girlfriend to say there was something wrong with Niall, that paramedics were working on him.

"We rushed over and when we got there I was advised not to even go and see him because it was so bad."

Niall was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital and diagnosed with a bleed on his brain. Surgeons were unable to operate and Caroline and Tommy faced an anxious wait, hoping Niall would survive.

Even once doctors were confident the stroke would not kill him, no-one knew how badly his brain was damaged.

"They won't give you any guarantees, they couldn't say what would happen with him," continued Caroline, a mum of three boys. "At one stage they told us we would be bringing Niall home and he would be like a baby."

After emerging from the stroke-induced coma - six months after he fell ill - Niall was paralysed and unable to walk or talk.

He was transferred to the regional brain injury unit at Musgrave Park Hospital, where he endured daily sessions with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.

When he was finally allowed to return home, he was still unable to walk.

"We just had to put him in the living room," continued Caroline.

"To go from having a son you are expecting to come home and watch the football, to one who can't walk or talk, it's indescribable. He was such a gorgeous young man, he had so much to live for and look forward to."

Despite the terrible damage to his brain, Niall learned to stand, walk and talk again. He now attends the gym daily and even goes swimming.

His dad, Tommy, said: "I thought I knew my son, but I didn't. The resolve, the dedication and the hard work and the sheer commitment to what he has done, with our help, but it's all Niall.

"He's done it all. He's the most humbling person to be around. We are so proud of him."

Niall himself said life is more challenging since the stroke, but he is determined to achieve more than he planned to before he fell ill.

"If I could send a message to people who might go through this situation, I'd give them hope; take your time, work hard and you'll be fine," he said.

May is Stroke Awareness Month and the Stroke Association has launched its annual Make May Purple campaign to raise awareness of stroke.

Tom Richardson, the charity's Northern Ireland Director, said: "Sadly, a quarter of all strokes affect younger people like Niall. Having a stroke at such a young age has taken a huge toll on Niall and his whole family, but he has shown incredible courage and determination to show that there can be life after stroke.

"On behalf of the Stroke Association, I want to congratulate Niall on his incredible recovery to date and wish him continued success in the future."

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