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‘I thought I was going to die’ Chelmsford horse rider suffered life-threatening stroke, but didn’t realise for two weeks

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Hannah Brown

By Hannah Brown


Picture above: Harriet Cooper had her stroke when she was looking to buy a horse (Credit: Stroke Association)

“I remember asking the doctor if I would horse ride again, and he said that I may not make it out of the hospital alive, let alone ride a horse again.”

This was the moment Harriet Cooper realised the severity of the life-threatening stroke she had suffered, without initially even realising it had happened.

The 31-year-old from Chelmsford, Essex had a stroke last September. She spent two weeks feeling unwell before going to hospital, where the doctors saw the severity of her stroke.

Harriet didn’t initially realise there was anything wrong (Credit: Stroke Association)

“Last year I was looking to buy a new horse and I was doing various viewings across the UK,” Harriet said.

“A young horse I saw reared as I mounted. Though I didn’t fall off, the action of the rear snapped my neck backwards.

“I wasn’t in pain, I shrugged it off as a simple jolt and carried on my day.

“At the time I didn’t realise the seriousness of the situation. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when I was at the point of buying a horse that I realised something wasn’t right.

“The horse failed the vetting, which was really upsetting, [and] at the same time as finding this out, my brain suddenly went foggy, as if someone had flipped a switch inside my head.

“I became less responsive and felt dizzy.

“I remember the horse managed to bite my finger because I didn’t move it quickly enough.

“I had to stand up propping myself up against a wall, I couldn’t work out what was happening.”

“I couldn’t stop being sick”

On her way home, Harriet explained that she called her dad and said that during the call her eyesight “went odd” a few times describing it as if it was “flickering in and out of vision”.

“When I got home I struggled to walk to my house and when I managed to get indoors I threw up,” Harriet said.

“I put it down to being hungry and still feeling stressed from the day I’d had.

“However, I couldn’t stop being sick and that evening, to walk around the house I had to hold onto the walls.”

The next morning Harriet managed to get to work, but as the day progressed her colleagues were becoming increasingly worried about her.

“By the end of the day I was holding onto anything I could to just get one foot in front of the other,” Harriet said.

“I somehow managed to get through the day and made it back home that evening.

“I went straight to bed and in the night I remember waking up and not being able to hear anything.

“I went back to sleep thinking it will be better by the morning, but the next morning I woke up feeling really bad.

“I knew I needed medical help, so with the help from a friend I went to hospital.”

Harriet said initially she felt like she was wasting the doctor’s time.

“I knew I was unwell,” she said. “But I didn’t think it was anything serious, I thought maybe an ear infection as I had lost my coordination.

“It’s only when I mentioned the horse accident that they decided a CT scan would be a good idea.”

The CT scan showed that Harriet had suffered 50 percent damage to the mobility area of her brain.

Doctors told her they believed the stroke had been caused by the incident with the horse, which had severed her spinal cord arteries.

Harriet was immediately taken to the stroke ward at Broomfield Hospital, where doctors warned her of how severe the stroke had been.

“Two out of four of my arteries were severed,” Harriet said. “In medical terms, I should be dead as you shouldn’t be able to function with more than one artery dissected.

“My case was so rare that doctors were speaking to specialist medical professionals in America to try to understand more.

Harriet was taken to Broomfield Hospital after the CT scan revealed how severe her stroke had been (Credit: Stroke Association)

“The first night was really scary and I honestly thought I was going to die.

“I still didn’t really believe this was happening to me.

“Everyday things were really challenging for me, walking to the toilet, showering and even just having visitors made me tired.

“I wanted to be home so badly, so I started pushing myself. I began walking up and down the hospital corridors, slowly going further and further, then faster and faster until I was jogging.

“This is the moment I had a glimmer of hope that my life was nowhere near over and that I would beat this.

“I dug deep for the determination I needed at this point and pushed myself, I didn’t want to be on this ward or in that hospital bed.

“In the evenings I would make hot chocolate for the other ladies on my ward, a task which had been simple before my stroke, but making and carrying hot drinks after my stroke was really hard. But every time I did something like this, the hope grew, I knew I could do this.”

“Each day I’m still seeing improvements”

Harriet spent six days recovering in hospital, being kept under two hourly observation.

“I was so determined to keep going I even took agile working to the extreme, working on my laptop in my hospital bed,” she said.

“Though the doctors would have preferred I stayed in longer, they allowed me to be discharged and go home to recover.

“Being very independent it was really hard to accept I couldn’t do everything myself, but I continued to push myself.

“At first just walking my dog was really hard. I was able to walk my dog a little further each day.

“Whilst I’ve made a good recovery, each day I’m still seeing improvements, I do still live with some effects of my stroke like fatigue, heightened emotions and I’m a little clumsier.”

Just over two months later Harriet bought an older horse called Mr Bean.

“Mr Bean has been a big part of my recovery,” she said. “Building my confidence back up as well as my stamina.

“Together we have done so much in a year, including fundraising and winning a charity dressage show.

“After my last CT scan in August which showed my arteries have healed, I was able to start jumping again. What an amazing feeling to be able to fly again.”

Each day Harriet said she is making improvements (Credit: Stroke Association)
Harriet is now able to ride and jump on her horse again (Credit: Stroke Association)

Harriet is now supporting the Stroke Association’s ‘Hope After Stroke’ Christmas appeal and is asking people to make a donation, so the charity can continue to support stroke survivors and their families.

She said: “I not only hope sharing my experience raises awareness to others my age, as I put off a lot of the signs before getting checked, but also would love to raise more for funding research which ultimately saved my life, as my case was rare.”

The charity estimates that there are 19,542 people living with the effects of stroke across Essex, while around 100,000 people have a stroke in the UK every year.

Tara Lakin, Head of Stroke Support at the Stroke Association, said: “When someone’s life has been shattered by stroke, they may feel all hope is gone.

“But we also know that stroke survivors cling onto even the smallest glimmer of hope.

“This is what powers them on to achieve what many thought would be impossible. I’ve heard so many stories of remarkable people making recoveries even 20 years after their stroke.

“This pandemic has had a serious impact on our ability to raise funds through our usual community events and activities.

“Many people in our support services have praised the support they received from the Stroke Association, to build on that first glimmer of hope so that they could rebuild their lives after stroke.

“Hope might be found in a call to our Helpline, through the friendship and support of our online community, or the ongoing support of our Stroke Association Support Coordinators.

“Rebuilding lives is impossible without hope. And that’s why we’re asking everyone in Essex to donate to the Stroke Association and help give someone the gift of hope this Christmas.”

Anyone who would like to donate, or for more information on the charity’s work, can do so here.

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