Neil was a bright, sporty 13-year-old who loved playing rugby and swimming. He did swim training five times a week and also played for his school’s rugby team. In November 2015, his life changed dramatically when he became suddenly unable to move his arm or speak at all. At the hospital, Neil’s family were told he’d had a stroke, caused by a rugby tackle a few weeks earlier.
Neil says: "They asked me something I couldn’t answer, and then I can’t remember anything."
Throughout Christmas, Neil was unconscious in hospital and, for a while, it looked like he wasn’t going to pull through. Neil’s mum Lynne recalls: "Our first thoughts were that it’s only a minor stroke and he’s a young lad, but we didn’t realise it was going to be quite such a devastating stroke as it was. At that point you want him to get better but you don’t know what he’s going to wake up to – what’s his life going to be like?"
The stroke had destroyed the speech centre in Neil’s brain and left him unable to make a noise for five weeks afterwards. He had to learn how to talk and walk again.
After lots of physiotherapy and perseverance, Neil is now walking and talking again, and has gone back to school. He now swims regularly and has been going to the local canoe club, as well as trying tandem riding with his parents.
Lynne says: "He’s just very determined to get on with life. He’s been so courageous – from day one right through to now he’s never given up. He’s a fighter and a brilliant example to anyone. He will continue to battle his battles, and I’m so proud of him." Neil’s dad Rod adds: "I don’t know anybody who would have coped with it the way he has – he has that kind of special quality in him that just drives him forward."
Neil’s advice to other stroke survivors? "Just keep trying. Work hard on your exercises, and don’t give up."