A policewoman who defied the odds to beat locked-in syndrome has called for the extension of a groundbreaking stroke treatment that saved her life.
Clodagh Dunlop, 39, walked back into full-time work with the police 18 months after suffering a stroke, and a year after being told she might always be confined to an electric wheelchair.
Mrs Dunlop, from Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, underwent a procedure called a mechanical thrombectomy to remove a clot in her head the day after she collapsed in April 2015.
As she suffered her stroke outside weekday office hours – when the procedure is normally offered in Northern Ireland – the operation was delayed.
It only went ahead when it did due to the goodwill of surgeons and other clinicians who went into work out of hours.
Mrs Dunlop, who is still battling to overcome life-altering disabilities, said she may have escaped any major side-effects of her stroke if the treatment had been available immediately.
She is now backing plans unveiled by health chiefs in Northern Ireland to provide thrombectomies on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis.
“I owe my life to the team at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast who, when contacted out of hours, made the decision to come to work and save my life,” she said.
“I have been told that without a mechanical thrombectomy I would most likely be dead. I am and will be forever grateful for their goodwill – if their decision to come into work was different I wouldn’t be standing here today.
“But every month when I receive a Personal Independence Payment I am annoyed and bemused that a small portion of the money spent to now assist me through my life was not spent in minimising my disabilities in the first place.
“I could not prevent the timing of my stroke, but the NHS could have minimised the effects if proper resource had been placed in the mechanical thrombectomy team.
“I did act fast, I did know that I needed medical attention, but I find it shocking that the surgery that saved my life is not available 24/7.”
Mrs Dunlop suffered two transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) – or mini-strokes – in the period before the major brain clot struck.
She was in an A&E ward awaiting treatment for the second episode when the stroke happened.
“I remember my sister staying with me, I remember the moment the clot lodged in my head, I remember saying to her, ‘I love you’, and then I remember violently thrashing about during a seizure before blanking out,” she said.
“My next memory is waking up in intensive care with tubes and lines emerging from my body and being paralysed from the top of my head to the soles of my feet.
“I was locked inside my body. I could hear and see everything, I could feel the rush of air as nurses walked past my bed but I couldn’t control any muscle other than my eyelids.
“I spent about three months locked-in where I couldn’t move anything, only my eyelids.
“The road to recovery has been painfully slow.”
After another four months, Mrs Dunlop was discharged from hospital and underwent further rehabilitation in the community.
“I was discharged in an electronic wheelchair. I was told my future life was going to be in an electric wheelchair,” she said.
“I know that without working for hours daily on my recovery I would not be walking or talking today.
“I know without the support of my family and friends I would remain in a wheelchair, not having returned to work in the police service full-time.”