'I'm a people person. Before my stroke I would talk to anyone. After my stroke, it took me three years to be able to say my own name.'
In 2017, Kelly Fogarty, 54, had two strokes. They left her with aphasia - a condition that impacts speech and language.
Kelly has Crohn's disease and was in hospital for treatment when she had the first stroke. 'When a nurse told me I'd had a stroke, I thought she was confused. I thought, 'I can't have had a stroke, I can walk'. I didn't realise stroke could cause aphasia.
'A speech and language therapist showed me pictures and asked me to say what things were. But I could tell by her face that the words I was saying were wrong. There was a picture of a teapot, but I was calling it an elephant.'
At the time of her strokes, Kelly ran her own social care training and assessment business. 'I was always speaking with people, and needed to read and write to support learners.
'After my strokes, my speech and language wasn't functional. I felt like a child again. I couldn't do things like speak with the bank. On the phone, they would ask for my name, address and phone number but I couldn't say it. It makes you feel real anxiety.'
Kelly had speech and language therapy after both strokes, but the support was limited. 'It took six months to realise I would be living with aphasia for a long time,' she says. 'My speech and language therapist told me after my second block of sessions that I'd done all I could do but my speech would be the way it was forever. That wasn't true, but at the time I was so distressed and angry.'
Initially unable to read, process words or understand numbers, Kelly had to close her business. Lack of income also meant she had to sell her home. She felt powerless and depressed.
'When you have aphasia, your life becomes an open book. You need help with everything that is personal, like money. It opens you up to judgement from other people.
'It's not just me that is impacted. It's a learning curve for everyone. I remember having an argument with my son. He did the shopping as I couldn't drive. I wanted tartar sauce, but couldn't get the word out. He got tomato ketchup. I threw it across the kitchen. I'm not like that, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I couldn't drive, I couldn't write a shopping list and I couldn't check my phone because I couldn't process the words.
'The Stroke Association came to my house to talk to me about support. This was a lifeline. I also received support for my mental health.'
Five years on, Kelly has made huge progress. She still mixes up pronouns and words, and struggles with some processing. But with determination and support from her partner, friends and family, Kelly is learning to live life well with aphasia.
She has a new job at Birmingham City University, supporting students by sharing her professional experience, as well as her lived experience of aphasia.
'I'm different from the person I was. But working with the students at the university has just been the best thing. I am passionate about aphasia. I need to talk about it, so more people understand. It's part of my life now. '
Kelly's top tips:
- Tell people you have aphasia -'I used to be embarrassed. Now when I meet people, I say I've got aphasia. People in shops or banks are happy to listen when they know."
- Carry a Stroke Association communication card - 'It stops my anxiety when I show it to people as they know I'm preparing to speak and don't keep asking me what I want.'
- Try to meet others with aphasia - 'We have an aphasia group at the university. They understand. There's no judgement.'
- Have a pen and paper handy - 'Even when I couldn't write, using a pen and paper helped me to process words.'
- Keep going - 'It can be a long journey, but speech can improve a lot over time, so keep a sense of humour and keep going!'
Get information and support
Find more information about communication problems after stroke. Or call 0303 3033 100 for support. You can also order communication cards and new aphasia resources (available from May), from our shop.
Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the spring 2023 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.