Some of the topics discussed will get you thinking about your own experiences. If you feel any distress, talk with someone you trust—perhaps a family member, friend, or your doctor. If you need support, information or advice StrokeLine’s health professionals are available 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, AEST. Call StrokeLine on 1800 787 653 or email Lifeline is available 24 hours a day on 13 11 44.

Video transcript

Beth: Hi, there. So my name is Beth Browning, I'm currently 21 and I'm studying nursing. I had my stroke back in 2019 when I was only 19 years of age and it came out of nowhere. I was laying in bed one day, I was on my phone jus texting my friends when all of a sudden I couldn't text it anymore. It was just coming out as random words. I tried to take little simple things like my name or just little words, and it was just coming out complete gibberish.

At that point, I kind of sat up in bed and was like, OK, something's wrong. So I kind of thought to myself, I can't type, you know, can I talk? I don't know why that was my first thought, but I just kind of decided to try and say something out loud to myself.

So I think I tried to say something like, I need to go downstairs or I need to go see mom or something. And I said, like, I need to catch the bus. And I was like, Wait a second, or, I need to pet the cat. And I was like, Well, OK, there's something like this…I couldn't, however hard, I couldn't say the right words. So I wasn't slurring and I wasn't, I guess I was kind of jumbling up my words in the sense that, like they were still, I was still being able to pronounce them, it was just everything I was saying was not what I wanted to say.

So at that point, I realized like, OK, something is severely wrong. Went downstairs, I was absolutely panicking and tried to somehow communicate to my parents what was going on, which was terrifying and really confusing because I didn't know how to say, Hi. I can't talk when I was muddling up my words anyway. So I was taken to hospital and I was actually put in the waiting room. So that in itself was a little bit scary because I think that people kind of saw my age and were like, Oh, know there could be many, many different reasons why I can't talk, why I can't communicate, and at that stage, I was kind of going through in and outs of being able to communicate really well and not be able to communicate at all.

So eventually, I was with my mom and she kind of just went to them, look like went back to the triage nurse, and was like look, this isn't right. Beth is not normally like this, she normally talks properly and really quickly. Eventually they kind of pushed me through to be seen straight away, which was very lucky because having mom there, she was able to advocate for me a lot. I mean, you know, be like, ‘No, this is not right. She needs to be seen.’

So what felt like days and hours, I was having CTs, MRIs, people trying to come in and try to talk to me. It hit about 3:00 a.m. and I was still there and I was having all these tests and then I got sent to a general ward. And basically, eventually, after about 15 to 24 hours, I managed to get a little bit of sleep. I woke up in the morning and by midday or something, I was able to communicate properly again.

And that was kind of the stage where, you know, people, someone accidentally told me, Hey, did you know you had a stroke? And I was sat in this room with mom going ‘Oh no, like no one's coming in and told me what's been going for a few hours.’ And I guess from there, it kind of triggered like all of a sudden there was a room full of specialist doctors. There were students, there were nurses, there were physios, OTs, and I remember just everyone standing around my bed and just being like, ‘Oh wow, you're really young. You've actually had this stroke, showed me the scan and I think at that point I was going, Oh, okay, this is actually really serious. I had a lot of questions, but I was really intimidated, I think, by the amount of people in the room with me.

And basically over the next few days to a week, I was having tests done on my heart because they told me that ‘Look, you’re this young having a stroke a lot of the time, it's because there's something wrong with your heart.’

So in the end, they did find that I had an atrial…atrial septal defect, so an ASD, from when I was born. So just a little hole in my heart that they think caused a bit of irritation for a blood clot to kind of form and then flick off to my brain. So I guess I was lucky in the sense that they did find a cause for me, and I was put on blood thinners and then I was just sent home after a week and a half, and I then had surgery to fix the hole about, I’d say a month later. A month and a half later, actually on my 20th birthday.  

So pretty much my recovery was very much just seeing an OT once I was discharged from the hospital and it was just doing very trivial assessments, so really, really simple tests for me because at that point, my speech, I thought, was normal.

So they were just testing the really surface things for me. So I was seeing an OT for a while and then I was discharged and everyone discharged me and I was kind of left for the rest of my recovery to navigate it myself.

To this day, now, I am now just past my two years on from it happening. I managed to get back to study as soon as possible, and that was my main goal. So for a while, I was really worried that there was something deeper going on that they wouldn't maybe be able to pick up in all of my assessments that I had in the hospital and with my OT. But since then, I've managed to get back to uni and I’ve figured out, that ‘Hey I can still write essays.’ And since then, I've just struggled with a bit of fatigue, which I've learned to deal with. But it's still definitely plays a huge part in my life today. I also noticed that when I'm really, really tired, I do muddle up my words a little bit. I still do sometimes. And I think that not having the physical deficits that other people might have from stroke, it kind of put me in a completely different box to others, especially when I was in hospital. I really felt like people kind of just looked at me and were like, ‘Wow, you're really, really young to be having a stroke.’

And, you know, everyone was as shocked as I was, you know, the physios, the OTs, the specialist surgeons and doctors, like everyone was kind of going, ‘Oh, wow.’ So it was a bit hard because I felt like people didn't really understand why I was there and I was just as confused as they were.

So I think that what played a really huge part in my recovery was actually having my family around and mom being a nurse herself, and I guess me studying nursing at the time, I did have a little bit of a prior understanding, but without them it was a bit of a difficult time.

I was lucky enough to find the Stroke Foundation and have been working with them and the Young Stroke Project to kind of work with people to improve the experience for others who might have had strokes, particularly who were young like me or just not in that age range that people assume you are when you have a stroke.

I remember getting booklets and information and all the pictures were of old people and people that were in wheelchairs, people that couldn't walk, and that wasn't me. So I guess just now, it's kind of over the last few years, I've realized that stroke can be different for everyone.

It can happen at any age. And I think there really needs to be a bit more education about, you know, the different stages of rehab for different people. And the Stroke Foundation has really helped with that. And they've kind of broadened my idea of stroke, and there's been a lot of people that have been really supportive through it. But I think that doing nursing myself, I've realized that having this experience and meeting the people I have, there's definitely more of awareness that needs to be out there and caring for people who are young that have had a stroke, maybe making them not feel like they're the only person in the world that's had one, because for me, I was, you know, I was already scared but then having everyone around me be like, Oh, wow, you know, this is weird. I was like, Okay, this is making things worse.

So I guess just kind of, coming, as a professional, as a physio, an OT, a nurse, a doctor, having someone there is going to support you and make you feel like you are supported whether they don't know what's going on with you or not makes you feel normal, have a chat and just be able to assist in anyway with rehab because rehab looked different to someone who had maybe a physical deficit from the stroke. So I've definitely had a big experience, and I am definitely going to keep learning from it as I go. I'm still learning to deal with fatigue, but I think that's meeting people along the way, and I was lucky enough to have a really good OT after discharge has really helped me.

So just having one health professional that understands or can have a chat to you, like a normal human being instead of the patient just to tick off and see, really, really makes a big difference.

So yeah, that's my story.