Understanding how stroke has affected you is an important part of making sure you can get the rehabilitation and support you need. But what if you didn't know you'd had a stroke?

Dawn Minker, 69, from Sandown, Isle of Wight, had a stroke when she was a baby. The stroke partially paralysed her tongue, causing speech and language difficulties. But thinking she wouldn't understand, her family decided not to tell her.

'I grew up not having any idea I'd had a stroke,' says Dawn. 'As a baby I struggled to feed and when I eventually learnt to talk, I found it difficult to form words. But I just thought I'd been born different.'

Throughout her childhood, Dawn had numerous tests and treatments for her speech difficulties, which often meant long stays in hospital. When she was eight, her parents moved her to a residential special needs school. Although she loved helping her fellow pupils, she struggled to understand why she had been sent away from her family.

It wasn't until Dawn was in her 50s, after the death of her parents, that she discovered the truth from her sister. 'I was so upset,' she remembers. 'Back then, nobody talked about babies and children having strokes. I spent too many years thinking that my mum didn't want me, as no one explained what had happened. But it was also a relief to finally know the reason for my communication problems.'

I grew up not having any idea I'd had a stroke [as a baby].

Keen to understand more about stroke and meet other stroke survivors, Dawn and her husband, Trevor, got in touch with the Stroke Association. 'We contacted the Isle of Wight Stroke Club and started to go to stroke cafes on the island,' says Trevor. 'We just have one big laugh all the time and Dawn's there in the middle of it greeting people. If somebody new comes in and they don't know anyone, Dawn will sit next to them and they relax.'

Dawn's experiences have made her determined to help improve the lives of others. She is now a full-time volunteer, hosting communication workshops and giving support to local people with severe communication difficulties. In 2017, she won the Life After Stroke Courage Award for her work.

'Winning the award was a huge honour, but I do what I do because I love it,' says Dawn. 'I've met some lovely people who've had strokes, and speaking to them has made me feel differently about my own. If you, or someone you know, has difficulty speaking or with other issues, there is support available. No-one should have to struggle alone.'

Watch Dawns stroke story

Stroke News magazine

This article is featured in the Spring 2020 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.