Torrington woman rebuilds her life after devastating stroke

Sally rides the surf guided by the Wave Project’s adaptive lead Ian Bennett

Sally rides the surf guided by the Wave Project’s adaptive lead Ian Bennett - Credit: Stroke Association

A 62-year-old North Devon woman whose life was turned upside down after a devastating stroke has found a perfect way to forget the bad times… on a surfboard. 

Sally Freeman lost her home and her job when she had a stroke four days before Christmas in 2015. 

Supported by the Stroke Association, she has been rebuilding her life ever since and has recently been enjoying a course for stroke survivors funded by the charity and provided by the Wave Project at Croyde. 

Sally, who lives in Torrington, took part in a similar course two years ago and after an anxious start was soon hooked. 

“The first time I went I was very nervous,” said Sally. “My balance is quite bad at times. I found it very difficult walking on the sand because I was so wobbly and had to be helped. The first session I chickened out and just watched but the second time I got the confidence to have a go. I absolutely loved it. 

“Going in the water is just amazing. You switch off completely from worrying about anything. It’s a lovely feeling. You feel ‘wooo, this is good!’ 

“So far I’ve only been on my stomach. I would be too wobbly to stand up but I’d like to try it on my knees. I feel quite proud of myself and I would like to keep it up now that this course has finished.  

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“The Wave Project staff and volunteers were absolutely brilliant looking after you and giving you confidence.” 

Sally’s stroke, the first of two, happened when an aneurism – a bulging blood vessel – suddenly burst in her brain. 

“I don’t remember a thing about my stroke,” said Sally. “I was out with my friend Annette and I suddenly collapsed and that was it. They called my kids to come to hospital and told them they didn’t know if I was going to pull through. 

“I was in intensive care at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, for about three weeks, then transferred to Barnstaple and then to Bideford. I was in hospital for four months in total. 

“My kids Jo and Tom couldn’t afford to pay the rent on my home when I was in hospital. I had to find somewhere else to live. All my furniture went to my ex-husband’s home for storage. My kids did the right thing but it meant I had to start again. 

“I was in hospital and I was homeless. They wanted me out and I said I can’t because I’ve got nowhere to go.” 

Eventually Sally was able to find a supported living flat in Barnstaple and two years later moved to a bungalow in Torrington to be near the care home where her late father was then living. 

The stroke also cost Sally her job and she had to rely on benefits. 

“I had recently started working nights at Sainsbury’s packing online grocery orders after being made redundant at Beaford Arts Centre. I’d worked at the arts centre as a kitchen assistant for 20 years and it was a job I really loved. After the stroke I couldn’t work because I get dizzy and very tired,” said Sally. 

“The aftermath of the stroke was something I couldn’t come to terms with. It was really traumatic but I got through it with the help of my family. 

“My grandson Sonny was just two and he used to visit me in hospital. He would come running into the ward and cheer everyone up, even the doctors!” 

Sally is sharing her story to support the Stroke Association’s Hope After Stroke campaign, highlighting the difficulties the stroke survivors can face and moments that can give them optimism on the road to their recovery.

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