Stroke victim relishes return to swimming but knitting may take longer

Jenny Laird thought her world had turned upside down when she suffered a stroke three years ago.

An avid ocean swimmer, the 65-year-old New Plymouth gardener wanted to waste no time getting her life back together.

“I was told by a close friend “you have a week to feel sorry for yourself, then you have to get back into it,” she said.

Three years on from suffering a cryptogenic stroke Laird finished the annual Flannagan​ Cup 1.2km Open Master’s swim event last month at New Plymouth.

The swim marked a significant milestone after months of pool and ocean training to gain strength, and confidence to return to the water.

It has left lasting memories, even now she finds it hard to even say the word “stroke” because it reminds her of the pain she went through, she said.

“I remember lying in bed in hospital and thinking my world has just turned upside down,” she said.

“I couldn’t walk, or lift my left leg or arm.

“My son, Russ, told me the first six weeks are the most important so after I left hospital I took my rehab into my own hands.”

She refused to use a walker and a harness provided by the hospital.

Instead, armed with Roger Lampen’s book on stroke recovery – ‘It’s All in the Head’ – Laird used self-help to restore her physical and mental health.

She refers to the book, written by Lampen about his own recovery from a stroke, as her bible.

“The hospital nurses got me exercising straight away and I started having physio within 2-3 days after being discharged,” she said.

She rejoined her swimming group Old Croc’s for pool sessions, and ocean swims.

“My friends were awesome, they kept encouraging me to get back in the water. I would feel absolutely exhausted on some swims, but they kept at me to finish.”

At the onset of the stroke Laird remembers waking up at home with a ”huge headache” and later vomiting on the drive to Taranaki Base Hospital emergency department.

“I felt like my eyes were popping out of my head.

“I wished I was dead it was so bad.”

Laird’s diagnosis for the headache was that it was related to her sinus, but she had never had bad sinus in her life, she said.

“I was told I had a blockage to the brain, but I wanted to know why I had a stroke,” she said.

A cryptogenic stroke is a brain infarction which is difficult to determine the cause.

It was only after being discharged and wanting to know the cause of the stroke she found the answer.

A heart specialist told her she had a small hole, or patent foramen ovale​, in her heart which had not closed naturally at birth.

As a gardener working at Pukeiti she had always done hard physical work, she said.

Still on the recovery path, Laird has bought a new carbon fibre electric mountain bike, and intended to swim the 5km Akaroa ocean event in 2022.

“I’m close to regaining my full strength, the only thing I can’t do yet is knit.”

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