Julie: Stroke at age 5, Australia

It all started in 1989 when I was five, two weeks before my sixth birthday. I was at School in Canberra and had a really bad headache so I went to the school sickbay to lie down. One teacher told me that I was not sick and that I was to go back to class. I was feeling so ill that I ended up falling asleep on a beanbag in the sick bay. My mum woke me up when she arrived, but I didn’t have a clue who she was nor did I know what was going on. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t walk, and I ended up going to hospital.

The hospital ran many tests on me, but could not find out what happened, so I was sent to Sydney. In Sydney, they ran more tests and found out that I had suffered a stroke due to an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in the brain. The AVM caused me to have many more strokes after that, but they were not as bad as the first one. I started to feel very weak in my left side. The AVM was growing. My doctor told me there was a way that he could stop the AVM from causing strokes as it was stealing the blood from the main artery, it was called embolisation.

When I awoke from the embolisation, I could not use my left arm at all. I was told I would regain full use of it in approximately six weeks, but this did not happen. I had to learn to write again as I was previously left-handed. Life back at school became very hard as the school became over protective since they had made such a mistake when this first happened. I wasn’t allowed to play sports or even run, and I had to have a Special Education teacher as the stroke had left me with learning difficulties.

Julie It has been very hard for everyone in my family. My father who was in the Navy remained on shore duty so he could take care of my four siblings as mum and I were always away at the doctors or in Sydney where I had to go for hospital visits. It has been hard for my siblings to understand why their sister was a bit different and why mum was hardly ever home. As we grew up we all grew closer. In 1995, when I was in year six, we moved to Sydney so that made things easier as all my doctors are here. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to go to family counseling to help me and my siblings understand more about what was happening, but I found that it made things worse as all the counselors would ask is “what is the worse thing that could happen to you”? I answered, with tears running down my face: “I could die.”

When I started high school, I attended a school with a Special Education Support Unit for children with disabilities. I made a few good friends, but it was hard because as the year went by, those friends came and went. I got called some really nasty names when I was in school; two of the worst were “hoppy” and “the one-armed bitch.” During this time, I also found out that I was epileptic. It all got way too much for me and I ended up changing schools for year 10, but during the exams, I had a brain hemorrhage and didn’t to get finish, so I didn’t earn my year 10 certificate.

Julie Kathleen BourkeAt 19, I had to have a hysterectomy. When I found out that I had to have that operation, I cried and cried. Even though this is a lot to deal with, life goes on. In 2003, on my 19th birthday, I found the love of my life and in March 2005 married him, the sweetest guy in the world.

Since then, I’ve continued to have several, ongoing medical issues like dizzy spells, vertigo, and migraines, all of which sent me back to the hospital from time to time. However, considering what I have been through – and I know that I will have to go through more – I have had a very good life. I ended up gaining my year 10 certificate after years of studying and went on to study computers. Sure, I get scared about the AVM and the medical issues stemming from it, but I have a great, supportive family and I know that they have been through a lot as well. If I could pick the family of the year, I’d have to pick mine.

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