HOPE, determination and the redemptive power of the sea are the reasons why a Cork stroke survivor believes she is able to walk again.
Breda Dalton’s uplifting story of overcoming a grim prognosis is the subject of a play produced and performed by her nephew, Al Dalton.
Three years ago, aged 57, Breda, a deep sea diver and swimmer based in Oysterhaven, was going about her normal routine. After walking her sister’s dogs on the cliffs and driving them back to their home in Rochestown, she returned to her home, fed her cats and made a cup of tea. But when she went to pick up the cup, her hand wouldn’t work.
“I went to try and get up. But my leg was gone as well. I knew straight away that I’d had a stroke because my mum suffered a stroke at 57, on the left side like me.”
Breda suggests she was fated to be afflicted in the same way as her mother but points out that her lifestyle was very different to her mother in that she was a lot more physically active.
Breda shouted at her husband, Tony Twomey, to call an ambulance. While he waited for the ambulance at the end of the dirt track leading to their house, the medics on the phone kept talking to Breda to make sure she didn’t become unconscious.
“I was lucky that I was able to talk. The fact that I was 100% certain that I’d had a stroke made a huge different to the ambulance people. They had someone ready at the Mercy Hospital for when I arrived.”
Breda’s stroke was the result of a brain haemorrhage. Fortunately, the internal bleeding stopped. The medics “had to be really careful not to move me too much in case of a second haemorrhage. I was fully paralysed on the left side and I’m left-handed,” says the former CIT Cork School of Music lecturer, who took early retirement after falling ill.
After three or four weeks, the feeling in Breda’s hand started to come back but doctors didn’t know if she would regain the use of her leg.
“But I knew it was. In bed, I used to put my good leg under my bad leg to lift it up. I was determined. After my mother’s stroke, she was in bed at home for 24 years and another five years in a nursing home before she died. She also suffered from depression which can happen with a stroke.”
Breda was adamant that she wasn’t going to exist like that.
While on a waiting list for the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dublin, she got some physiotherapy while in hospital.
“One night, in bed, I could feel my toes starting to move. I believed I was going to walk again.”
But Breda developed a clot in her lung and it was feared that she was going to get another stroke. However, the clot was dissolved.
Breda, who spent three months in hospital altogether, went to St Finbarr’s Hospital. She had started to pull herself up in the bed and would be hoisted onto a Buxton chair, which supports the neck.
“Mentally, I was very good and even though the odds were against me, I was determined to walk again. I imagined myself in Oysterhaven, walking the cliffs with the dogs.
“I set up a routine for myself in hospital. I started to teach myself how to write using my right hand.”
The doctors feared Breda might be unable to ever go home again. However, she was allowed out on day release, using a wheelchair.
“I knew I was going to go home eventually and I knew Tony would manage.”
Although Breda was a lot heavier than she is now, she was fit. She found a way of managing the cooker at home and bought a commode. She also had the use of a walking frame after a while. After two and a half weeks in St Finbarr’s, she was allowed to stay overnight in her home. That worked out well.
“The hospital couldn’t keep me any longer and it was decided at this stage that I wasn’t going to Dublin.
“My sister came to Oysterhaven to look after me. My nephew Al helped out too. So I had back-up. I wouldn’t have been released from hospital if I hadn’t had help.”
Breda and Tony don’t have children. “We only have cats,” says Breda.
But she also has years of experience swimming and snorkelling.
“I knew that if I could get back into the sea, I could get my leg going. The biggest problem is my balance although it’s considered very good for someone who’s had a brain haemorrhage.”
As time went on, Breda became stronger and she managed to get down to the bay with the help of a walking stick. She used the stick to get into the water and, as planned, she put the stick into a friend’s boat.
“I could swim! That first day, I wore a wet suit. I was afraid that because of my balance, I was going to sink on one side. But I didn’t sink. I was free, able to use my left leg to kick. My arm felt much stronger. I knew I could stay up in the water. It was huge progress for me.
“The fear of falling is always there when you have a stroke. It’s why people are afraid to move. Now, I’m doing really well. I continue my physiotherapy at the Functional Zone at Leisure World in Bishopstown.
“I consider myself very lucky to have got into St Finbarr’s because normally, people under 60 with strokes don’t go there.”
Al is very proud of his aunt. He felt her story should be told in theatrical form. With his director girlfriend, Sadhbh Barrett Coakley, Al has devised a play, called Swim/Stroke through the couple’s company, ASLA Productions.
As they point out, with 10,000 strokes happening in Ireland every year, few households are unaffected by this illness in some way.
Swim/Stroke will be performed at the Theatre Development Centre at Triskel Christchurch on June 23 at 1pm, 3pm and 6pm as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.
The production will also be staged at the Clonmel Junction Festival, headed up by mary Hickson, from July 4 to 6.
ALSA Productions was set up by CIT Cork School of Music graduates Al Dalton and Sadhbh Barrett Coakley in 2016. Their first play, Tomatoes, toured to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016 and the Limerick Fringe 2017.
Swim/Stroke is their first original play and has been devised by both Al and Sadhbh in collaboration with a number of other Cork-based artists, Arran MacGabhann (composer & sound designer), Laura Perrem (visual designer), Aoife Cahill (lighting designer) and Julie Daunt (AV designer).
The play is performed by Al with the voice recordings of Breda playing a large part in the sound design of the play.
Drawing on Al and Breda’s love of the sea, the play is set against the backdrop of the idyllic Oysterhaven Bay.
For tickets to the play, see Corkmidsummer.com