A man in his twenties thought he was going to die after suffering a terrifying stroke at home.
Dominic Nicholas was a Jaguar Land Rover mechanic and had just bought his first home when he noticed his mood was changing. The 25-year-old from Wallace found himself exploding, frustrated, angry and upset, but he put it all on the shoulders of renovating his home.
But in August of last year, Dominic woke up to find his right side completely numb. When he tried to speak he was repeating himself and tossing his words.
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His girlfriend Laura realized he was having a stroke and called an ambulance. Dominic was taken to hospital where doctors discovered that the cause of the stroke was an arteriovenous malformation of the brain – an extremely rare tangle of poorly developed blood vessels.
His mood swings were caused by his blood vessels bursting and healing multiple times causing tiny clots to form in the part of his brain that regulates emotions.
Dominic said, “When the stroke happened, I thought I was going to die. I closed my eyes and lost consciousness, I don’t have any 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 in the intensive care unit.” .
“I couldn’t walk or talk at all. My friends and family were really shocked because I was so young, and 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 60s They think they are too young to have a stroke.”
Dominic underwent a complex 9-hour surgery at the Walton Center to remove the aneurysm. The left side of his brain was damaged by the stroke, resulting in him not being able to use the right side of his body and not being able to speak.
Dominic was diagnosed with non-fluent speech aphasia, which means he struggled with producing words and sounds and retrieving language.
But an incredibly two weeks after the surgery, he realized he could sing “Fly me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra where a different part of the brain controls the music and the singing of the damaged part.
Dominic said, “When I realized I could sing, I was hoping that would mean I would eventually be able to talk again. When I started speaking again, I didn’t have a Merseyside accent anymore. I sounded like a robot or Siri. It feels so weird when You wake up one day with a different sound.
“I felt like I had lost a part of my identity – but everyone was really happy that I was speaking.”
“It was a waste of time about what happened,” Dominic said and was working hard with a therapist at The Brain Charity to slowly relearn his words. Over time, he even managed to restore his Merseyside accent.
He credits neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to rewire and create new neural pathways after injury or damage — with the progress he’s been able to make so far.
The Brain Charitable Foundation offered Dominic free speech and language therapy, which made him excited about his recovery. He said, “Aphasia is not the end of your life. If someone you know has aphasia, give them time to talk. For me I just wanted to be treated as I was before.”
“It can be all too easy to be like ‘this is how it is’ and give up. I definitely experienced that when I was discharged from the hospital, but working with The Brain Charity motivated me to keep going.”
Nanette Mellor, executive director of The Brain Charity, said: “The impact of aphasia on emotional and mental health can be huge. Feeling frustrated and literally losing one’s voice is common in society.
“For many daily activities, speaking is the way we communicate, and if you cannot speak, simple tasks such as going to a store, post office, or getting on a bus can become very difficult. There is also a financial and economic impact – job loss is a huge factor. People who have experienced aphasia may feel they are no longer able to work, or they may face losing their jobs.
“SALT is vital to support people with aphasia, like Dominic, whom we are proud to share his story with and are glad we were able to help. But unfortunately, across the board, community-based SALT has been completely stripped.”
“What we are seeing now is that people receive SALT while they are in the hospital, but when they are discharged from the hospital, they are left to follow things on their own, with a little help. At The Brain Charity, we like to be able to hire a full-time speech and language therapist to support those who are Much needed, as we’ve seen firsthand, the huge positive impact SALT can have on people with aphasia.”
To learn more about The Brain Charity and how to support the work you do, click here.