Celebrating my 23rd birthday with my family in Covent Garden, I was eating a slice of cake when I began to feet a bit of a headache. I was determined to finish my cake and coffee, of course, but when we did and I rose to leave, my legs turned to jelly and gave way. An ambulance was called, and the last memory I have of that day is a paramedic shining his torch in my eyes.
I was taken to University College Hospital, medics suggested to my parents it was brain related. They didn’t have the facilities at the hospital to deal with that, so I was transferred to Queen’s Hospital, the national hospital for neurology, where CT scan and MRI revealed what had happened. At just 23, I had suffered a massive brain haemorrhage.
Earlier in that year, 1995, I graduated from Brunel University with a degree in microelectronic engineering and hoped to pursue a career as an engineer. Suddenly, my whole life plan had changed.
The bleed was suspected to have come from some abnormal blood vessels (arterial venus malformation, as its called, or AVM), sort of like a birthmark, which one in twenty thousand people are born with. Most people won’t even know that they have them; mine burst for no reason.
Usually these AVMs occur on the surface of the brain so they can be operated on, but for me they were deep inside, so they couldn’t stop the bleeding. A hole was drilled into my skull to relieve the pressure in my head, and I was put onto a ventilator to help my breathing as it was getting weak. In the intensive care unit, somehow I got an infection through my drip.
“My parents met with an anaesthetist who estimated that, given everything I had gone through, there was about a 1% chance of me surviving.”
That night I knocked the ventilator tube out of my mouth, but the nurse on duty didn’t notice for about half an hour. By morning, I had picked up a lung infection, known as adult respiratory distress syndrome because my lungs had been starved of oxygen.
Any one of these conditions alone is life threatening. All three together meant that I had little chance of making it through. My parents met with an anaesthetist who estimated that, given everything I had gone through, there was about a 1% chance of me surviving.
The following day my parents met the senior consultant, who said frankly there was little that could be done for me. There was one drug which could possibly help but it was extremely expensive and wasn’t available in the hospital.
Of course my parents wanted to raise funds to buy it. But eventually the consultant felt that because his staff had done such a bad job in caring for me, he gave the go ahead for the drug to be ordered. Once it had been administered, which took some time, thankfully it did the job.
When I say did the job, what I mean is I was alive, but I was paralysed down my left side with no feeling. I was then moved to a rehab unit where I stayed for another four months, turning up on a stretcher I could hardly move as my muscles had wasted away so much.
I had more physio each day and my rate of recovery during this time was unbelievable. One doctor believed I’d be lucky to walk within eight years. I had intensive physiotherapy for about an hour a day as most people get very tired. I didn’t feel tired so was able to carry on with exercises on my own during the day. I was determined to prove him wrong.
I was also told I would never return to work, or be able to drive or live independently, but I knew I would prove everyone wrong. Against the odds, I’ve learned that it is possible for an average guy like me to exceed expectations exponentially. I did live on my own, and I did find love with my wife. I am lucky I can do everything myself – with the aid of a few bulldog clips and some ingenuity.
When you know that you shouldn’t really have survived something, you are much more grateful you did. When you know the expectations are that your condition won’t really improve, you learn to be thankful for each moment they are wrong. Walking, driving, working, travelling abroad, learning to swim, starting my own business – the list of things we take for granted but for which I’m now grateful is long.
“Walking, driving, working, travelling abroad, learning to swim, starting my own business – the list of things we take for granted but for which I’m now grateful is long.”
For ten years I worked hard as a warden at Windsor Castle, before deciding it was time to take the plunge and launch my own business. With my love to research and my engineering background and patient nature, I decided to give back and help older people with their technology needs. My days involve helping people understand how to use their phone, order online shopping or buy the right phone or laptop for their needs. I know all too well what it’s like to have to learn new skills as an adult, so I want to use my story to help others do the same.
After all, I’ve also learnt that it’s never too late to learn. My stroke was more than half my life ago now, but my body is still learning. I am currently receiving treatment for my left arm – that doesn’t function – but I’ve learnt that receiving encouragement is key to improvement.
I want to encourage others on that same road to recovery I’ve been walking for 25 years.
Kin Wan is founder of Ask-Kin
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