I had to accept the new me after my stroke
In October 2011, 47-year-old Melonie McKechnie tripped over a small stone during a run, resulting in minor abrasions and a bruised shoulder and eye. A week later she developed one of her infrequent migraines, with symptoms intensifying during a race the next weekend – so she took some medication. The following day, she tried to put on her running clothes. That’s when everything went black...
Life after stroke
‘I was absolutely terrified when I woke up in ICU surrounded by my family. I had no idea what had happened and when I realised I couldn’t speak properly, or move the right side of my body, I panicked.
My husband Ian told me I’d had a stroke and should relax, as we’d get through it together. I was stunned. How was this possible? I was young, fit and healthy, and had completed my sixth Comrades Marathon earlier that year. And now I was in trouble.
Intensive acute physical rehabilitation
I spent a week in ICU, followed by a week in the ward before transferring to Life Riverfield Lodge. I was wheelchair-bound with a catheter, unable to do anything for myself and I was an emotional wreck. I had no idea if or when I would recover and couldn’t imagine living like this for the rest of my life, but my Comrades training soon kicked in and helped me deal with the situation. I was determined to work hard at reclaiming my life and gave myself a year to get better and race.
I spent two months at Life Riverfield Lodge doing intensive rehab, which continued at Life Groenkloof Hospital rehab centre. It was an uphill battle but I put everything I had into it. I hit rock bottom the next November when race day came and went. I’d fought hard to get back on the road, but couldn’t even do so driving a car!
Accepting the new me
I was devastated and so low that I even contemplated suicide. But the love and support from family and friends, together with counselling, helped change my mindset and I realised that the only way forward – and to take back control – was to accept the new me. My husband and son were with me all the way and helped me develop a good sense of my weaknesses and strengths, to adapt my life accordingly.
It’s been a long, slow journey to get where I am today – about 80% back to where I used to be – and I’m still a work in progress. I’m totally independent, back at work full-time, and am happy to cycle instead of run.
The power of encouragement
There’s no doubt my incredible team of doctors, therapists and nurses, and the excellent rehab I received at Life Healthcare hospitals played a huge role in my recovery. They never stopped encouraging and supporting me even in my darkest moments, and I’m so grateful to each one of them for their endless patience, kindness and help.’
In her doctor’s words
‘Melonie’s journey taught me a valuable lesson about the fragile nature of life very early in my career as a therapy unit manager. It saddened me that someone who was so fit and lived such a healthy life could undergo such a tragedy.
We deal with a lot of patients who go through intensive rehabilitation, but the way Melonie approached hers – with determination and tenacity – has always stayed with me. She worked extremely hard every single day, so much so that upon discharge she was able to walk independently with a walking aid and had greatly improved overall.
She made the decision not to allow her disability to define her, but for her to define her stroke. Melonie McKechnie will remain an amazing inspiration to all of us at Life Riverfield Lodge as well as to fellow stroke survivors.’ Ida Geldenhuys, Therapy Unit Manager at Life Riverfield Lodge