Dominick, 25, was working as a mechanical fitter at Jaguar Landrover last summer when he started to notice his mood changing, realising that he’d started snapping, feeling down and becoming angry or upset.
After putting it down to the stress of buying his first home and redecorating it, in August he suddenly woke up and began to repeat words, while his right side went numb and his speech then became slurred.
His girlfriend Laura realised he was having a stroke and called an ambulance. When at the hospital, doctors found the cause had been a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) - a tangle of abnormal and badly developed blood vessels, which is extremely rare and affects just one percent of the population.
Dominick, who is from Wallasey, said to The Brain Charity: “When the stroke happened, I thought I was going to die.
“I closed my eyes and blacked out, I have no memories of that time but I wasn’t unconscious.
“When I woke up a week later, I realized the right side of my body wouldn’t move, and I was on an intensive care ward.
“I couldn’t walk or talk at all. My friends and family were really shocked as I was so young, they didn’t expect it.
“When people think of strokes, they think of an elderly person.
“Even among young stroke survivors, there are people in their sixties who think they’re too young to have had a stroke.”
The mood swings Dominick was experiencing were caused by the AVM bursting and healing multiple times, in turn creating mini strokes in the part of his brain that regulates emotions.
After undergoing a nine-hour operation to remove the AVM, doctors found the left side of Dominick’s brain was damaged by the stroke, meaning he couldn’t talk or use the right side of his body.
He was diagnosed with non-fluent aphasia, a condition that sees people struggle to produce words and sounds and retrieve language.
Dominick said: “When I first woke up in hospital, I couldn’t talk at all. A speech therapist asked me to recite the alphabet and I realised I couldn’t.
“But the singing part of my brain wasn’t damaged. Two weeks after surgery I couldn’t talk at all, but I could sing ‘Fly Me To The Moon’.”
He was able to sing the Frank Sinatra hit because a different part of the brain controls music and singing to the part that had been damaged.
He continued: “When I realized I could sing, I hoped that meant I’d eventually be able to talk again.
“When I first started being able to talk again, I didn’t have a Merseyside accent anymore. I sounded like a robot or Siri.
“It feels so weird when one day you just wake up with a different voice. I felt like I had lost part of my identity – but everyone else was just really pleased I was talking.
“After the stroke my speech was very slow and laboured and my language was limited to small words.
“People often didn’t know where to look and what to say, they would have good intentions but would interrupt or talk over me, or assume I had a learning disability.
“My speech and language therapist at The Brain Charity helped me to break down the longer words into syllables.
“I can now pronounce more words – and slowly but surely, my accent has started to come back.
“Aphasia isn’t the end of your life. If someone you know has aphasia, give them the time to talk. For me, I just wanted to be treated the way I was before.”
While he still has a long way to go, he credits neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to ‘rewire’ and create new neural pathways after injury or being damaged – with the progress he’s made so far.
Dominick said: “Before the stroke, I was really into going to the gym. Now, my movement being affected is what I find the hardest.
“But when I woke up and realised I couldn’t move that side of my body, I knew it was a waste of time feeling sad about what happened, how young I was to have a stroke and how it had changed my life.”
Around 7 months into his recovery, Dominick was offered free speech and language therapy (SALT) through The Brain Charity.
He added: “Brain injury is so diverse – it’s such a broad spectrum and can affect people in so many ways, depending on which part of the brain is affected.
“Charities like The Brain Charity are essential to keeping you motivated and informed, because it can be very easy to just be like ‘this is it’ and give up.
“I definitely experienced that when I was coming out of hospital, but working with The Brain Charity motivated me to keep going.”
Featured Image Credit: The Brain Charity
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