One normal school day morning Gina Hickey got the news that changed her life forever – her mum had suffered a devastating stroke.
Aged just 56-years-old, Eva Hickey was partially paralysed and lost much of her ability to speak.
As a teenager studying for her A-levels in 2001 it had a profound affect on young Gina’s life.
Exactly 17 years later she has become determined to do her bit to raise money and support those affected by sudden strokes.
Gina Hickey (right) and her mum Eva before her stroke (Image: Gina Hickey)
Every five minutes in the UK someone falls victim to a stroke.
The consequences for people can be life-changing – loss of movement, vision, speech, memory and feeling.
Disabilities triggered by a severe stroke can require constant care, often placing a burden on friends and families.
According to the Stroke Association, a quarter of people report that stroke had a negative impact on their family.
“You go to bed and wake up the next morning and it’s all changed,” said Gina, who lives in Haverhill.
“I was 18 at the time. I didn’t understand what was happening.”
‘The next time I saw her was in Addenbrooke’s’
Before she went to school, Gina noticed her mum had not been up that morning and her dad said that Eva was not feeling well.
“She tried to go down the stairs, she said something to my dad which he didn’t understand because it was mumbled,” Gina explained.
“She pulled herself up and collapsed in bed.
“I saw her the night before, I went to bed and the next time I saw her was in Addenbrooke’s.”
At first doctors were unsure what had happened to Eva and even tested her for meningitis.
It soon became apparent that she had suffered a major stroke that paralysed her right side and affected her speech.
Gina Hickey (right) and her mum Eva after her major stroke (Image: Gina Hickey)
Difficult to communicate
Eva, who is Greek Cypriot, spent three months in hospital and rehab while Gina and her Dad, Oliver, coped at home on their own.
“It was quiet in the house just me and my Dad,” said Gina.
“I was really worried. I only saw my mum at the weekend. It was a tough time.
“I didn’t do as well as I thought I was going to do in my A-levels.”
Eva finally returned home and the family began to adjust to the changes that the stroke brought to their lives.
“It’s very difficult to communicate with my mum,” explained Gina. “She understands some things but it’s hard. She can’t hold a full conversation
“She will sit there and look at you. Some times you can say the simplest of things and she can pick it up straight away and other times she will be looking going ‘huh’?
“She still has a lot of problems on her right side. Her walking is not very good.”
A changed relationship
The impact of the stroke has been difficult for both mother and daughter and changed their relationship.
“She does get very, very frustrated,” said Gina. “She knows what she wants to say but she can’t really get it out. She will get angry.
“It’s been quite tough. Being 18 at the time it happened, I didn’t have my mum around to talk to about things or doing simply things like cooking for example.
“We’ve all gone on a holiday to Cyprus. My mum would be speaking to everybody in Greek, so it’s been difficult communicating with our family.”
With an older sister and two older brothers, Gina did the best she could to cope as the youngest sibling.
‘An emotional shockwave’
George Burroughs, community and events fundraising manager at the Stroke Association, said: “Stroke causes an emotional shockwave for stroke survivors and their families – many of whom become unpaid carers overnight.
“The condition can strike in an instant, and throws husbands, wives, partners and children into crisis.
“We often hear that carers feel that they’re doing what anyone else would do in the same situation.
“But this can also mean that they are completely unprepared for the role. That’s why it’s vital that you get the right information and support to help you.”
Gina is running a charity race to raise money for the Stroke Association (Image: Gina Hickey)
‘It made me grow up a lot quicker’
Gina acknowledges that her dad’s life had been most affected by her mum’s major stroke.
“Me personally, I just carried on as best I could I just threw myself into school work and I worked part time,” she said.
“I think It made me grow up a lot quicker. It’s difficult for the family.
“It’s been tough for my Dad. He’s mum’s carer. He’s had a lot to deal with. He does everything for her my mum.
But Eva still enjoys a lot of independence and leads a full life. She gets around Haverhill in a mobility scooter and visits support groups run by the Stroke Association and Headway brain injury charity.
Gina believes that the work of such charities has helped raise awareness of strokes, their causes and symptoms.
“I think people now are more aware of what a stroke is,” she said. “I don’t know if they know how the family reacts when people have a stroke.”
Gina has recently thrown herself into running. She has lost nearly three stone through slimming world and trains with the Haverhill Running Club.
She now plans to complete the Stroke Association’s 5k Resolution Run at Milton Country park on March 18 to raise money for the charity.
On the day she will have plenty of support on hand from her Mum and Dad.
“They will both be there at the run cheering me on with my partner,” she said.
For more information about entering or volunteering at the Resolution Run, visit www.stroke.org.uk/resolution, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0300 330 0740.