A local teacher who suffered a stroke aged 29 that left her unable to walk, eat or communicate properly, has shared her recovery story ahead of a major cycle challenge across four countries to inspire survivors to keep fighting.
Primary school educator Nicole Le Miere had a stroke 11 years ago when an artery in her neck dissected, affecting the blood supply to her brain.
Having woken up feeling unwell, Nicole was initially believed to have been suffering a 'middle ear infection'. But it quickly emerged that the reality was much worse: in the next 24 hours, she lost her ability to swallow, her speech began to slur and she lost feeling down the left side of her body.
Pictured: What was initially believed to be an ear infection later turned out to be a stroke, which led Nicole to be hospitalised.
She was quickly admitted to hospital amid fears that she might suffer a second stroke soon after. Fortunately, this didn't happen, but remembers enduring “horrendous headaches” on a daily basis. Facing the prospect of being fed by a tube, and struggling with limited mobility, Nicole became determined to improve these skills, with baby food and baby steps.
Explaining the reality challenge facing her as a young woman, she recalled: "I will always remember being made to walk down the hospital corridor holding on to one of the Physio staff. My head was spinning as my brain was trying to take in the people walking in and out of doors and past me. I was offered a walking stick but I suppose through vanity... I did not want it.
"Being 29 and having to endure all these things was not easy."
Pictured: Nicole (middle) running for the Stroke Association with her brother Jacques.
Keen to return to “normal” life as quickly as possible, Nicole returned to work part-time three months after her stroke and then full-time three months later.
“I can’t help but wonder if I was finding the sentence ‘I have had a stroke’ difficult to accept,” she confessed. “I wanted to forget it all ever happened instead of facing it.”
“As life returned to normal it became increasingly difficult for people to understand what I was still going through even though I looked and sounded completely normal,” Nicole continued, explaining that she didn’t want to go out and would feel “miserable” because she was in pain. “I was so lucky to be alive but yet I was struggling."
Pictured: In 2012, Nicole cycled from London to Paris for the Stroke Association.
The years that followed were “incredibly difficult”, but a turning point came when she became involved with the Stroke Association after learning of the London-to-Paris cycle with fellow stroke survivor Anthony Lewis.
“This is when things started getting better. I began to meet people who could understand me and know what I was going through. I started feeling more positive about what life had to offer and I had a goal that I was determined to achieve. For me the Stroke Association was the best remedy I could ask for."
During her recovery, Nicole also found that exercise really helped her - physically and mentally.
Pictured: Nicole and Tracy O'Regan, Fundraising and Operations Manager for the Stroke Association, at the Jersey Marathon.
“One of the side effects of stroke is that it can affect your emotions and your mental health,” Nicole explained. “Exercise is my thing, my go-to, it keeps me healthy and keeps my mind positive, it gives me something to aim at. Running has been really beneficial.”
While Nicole still suffers from headaches and nerve damage leaving her with no feeling down her left side, she has now turned a corner.
“I will not lie and say I never have down days because I do, but I refuse to let myself wallow in them... I was incredibly lucky, and it is only now that I can say that I am a stroke survivor and not a stroke victim. I have been given a second chance in life and I am determined to grab it with both hands.”
Pictured: Last year, for her 40th birthday, Nicole climbed two mountains.
Determined to give back to the Stroke Association, Nicole is keen to raise awareness of the fact strokes can hit anyone, at any age, at any time. She has also taken part in fundraising events and ran the Marathon in 2015 as well as the Resolution Run in March to help raise money.
She also regularly supports and empowers islanders who have suffered a stroke. “You can’t give up when you have a stroke, you have to keep fighting. There’s always hope.”
Nicole’s determination to support the Stroke Association increased when her father suffered a stroke a year and a half ago. “Much like me, he is very stubborn, very determined. He is progressing, he has learned to walk again. It’s a very positive story for him too.”
Pictured: Nicole's father had a stroke a year and a half ago.
Nicole is currently prepping for her next challenge: a 350-mile ride from London to Amsterdam starting on 18 September. Jacques, Nicole’s brother, will be riding with her in support.
The ride, which Express is supporting as media partner, was organised by Discover Adventures to raise £125,000 for the Stroke Association.
Anthony Lewis (50), who had a stroke in 2007, which left him with a communication difficulty called aphasia and limited mobility, will be among the participants.
Nicole is aiming to raise £900 for the association. She also wants to convince more islanders to take part and she has a very simple argument to do so: “You don’t have to be fit, it is not a race, you can take as long as you want.”
“I haven’t started training yet,” she admitted. “I’ve just done the Resolution Run so that was my focus. My bike has been serviced, my kit is out of the garage but that’s about it.
"If I can do it, having not started my training yet, anyone can.”
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