Retired nurse who knew she was having a stroke when she tried to clean her teeth with the brush handle celebrates Christmas after “miracle” surgery

·5-min read

A retired nurse who found herself trying to clean her teeth with the brush handle and realised she was having a stroke is celebrating the miraculous surgery that put her back on form in time for Christmas.

A medical training meant that grandmother Fran Hughes, 62, knew something was very wrong when she started cleaning her teeth with the brush the wrong way round one morning in October.

Mum-of-two Fran, of Chester, Cheshire, called out to her husband, Bryan, a retired environmental engineer, for help, saying: “It was a terrifying experience.”

Fran’s youngest grandchild was born just a week after her stroke. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Fran’s youngest grandchild was born just a week after her stroke. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I remember lying paralysed, struggling to concentrate, with limited speech and thinking this would be my future.

“Being back to my old self now feels like a miracle and I’m incredibly grateful to be spending Christmas safe and well with my family.”

Fran, who keeps busy volunteering for Chester Zoo, North West Air Ambulance and her local theatre, Storyhouse, woke up feeling perfectly normal on 7 October 2021.

She said: “I woke up as usual and went to the bathroom.

“I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when I noticed something didn’t feel right.

“I looked down and saw that I’d put my toothbrush in my mouth the wrong way round, with the bristles sticking out. I tried to take it out, but I couldn’t think how to correct it.”

Fran suffered a stroke in October. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Fran suffered a stroke in October. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I began to lose feeling in my left arm and leg.

“Then it dawned on me that I was pressed into the corner of the bathroom wall. That’s when I thought, ‘I’m in serious trouble here.’”

Fran, who has two sons – PJ, 35, a travel agent, and Matt, 33, a paramedic – shouted for her husband, who ran up the stairs to find his wife having a stroke.

He phoned for an ambulance and Fran was rushed to Countess of Chester Hospital, where they found a clot in an artery leading to her brain.

She said: “I remember lying on a trolley in hospital and my youngest son, Matt, appearing at my side.

“At the time, I didn’t think too much of it because he’s a paramedic, so I thought he had been nearby.”

Fran says she feels very lucky to be alive and well. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Fran says she feels very lucky to be alive and well. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “Afterwards, he told me he was worried he might not see me again. It was that serious.

“Matt travelled with me in the ambulance, although I wasn’t very aware of that at the time.

“I remember at one point I thought the ambulance was slowing down and I asked why we were stopping. Matt joked, saying ‘we’re just stopping for a Maccies, is that OK?’ Even I laughed.”

She added: “It’s only since the stroke that I realise just how lucky I’ve been.

“If it had been just a few minutes longer for the ambulance to arrive, or if that stroke had happened while I was in bed or when my husband wasn’t home, then I could have ended up either paralysed or dead.”

At the hospital in Chester, Fran was treated with clot busting drugs before doctors decided that the gran-of-four needed urgent intervention.

Fran’s husband, Bryan, phoned for an ambulance. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Fran’s husband, Bryan, phoned for an ambulance. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I was then transferred to The Walton Centre in Liverpool.

“When I arrived, there was a team of experts waiting to take me straight in for the procedure.

“The neuroradiologist was excellent at explaining the procedure to my son before he had to sign the consent forms.”

She added: “Within 20 minutes of arriving, I was anesthetised and had a two-and-a-half-hour brain operation to remove the clot.”

The blood clot was located in an artery at the base of Fran’s brain leading to the organ, and surgeons performed a thrombectomy to remove it.

She said: “They inserted a catheter into my groin which had a sort of hook on the end. They put it into the artery in my groin and worked it through my body until it reached the clot and then they pulled it back out.”

Fran says the thrombectomy saved her life. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Fran says the thrombectomy saved her life. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “Before the op, I remember lying in the hospital bed with limited speech and paralysis on my left side. After surgery, it was like a switch had clicked and I was back to normal.

“I was in hospital from the Thursday to the Monday.

“I’m not normally one to want to speak out publicly, but I’m so passionate about the fact that this procedure gave me back my life.”

She added: “Just a week after my stroke, my youngest grandchild was born and now I get to play an active role in her life.”

Since the emergency brain surgery, Fran has been recovering at home and is looking forward to spending Christmas with her family.

She said: “Going through something like this really puts life into perspective.”

Fran says this Christmas will be extra special. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Fran says this Christmas will be extra special. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I absolutely love Christmas and I would been devastated to have to spend it in hospital, so this year will be even more special.

“I’m trying very hard to be sensible and to pace myself, but I’m really looking forward to returning to my volunteering work.

“The Walton Centre literally saved my life. I was in a bad way before getting the emergency thrombectomy. To go back to normal afterwards without any residual effects felt like a miracle. The staff were incredible.”

She added: “It is so important that we have a service like this literally on the doorstep in Liverpool.

“This Christmas feels even more special. I could have been paralysed or dead, but instead, I’m fine and I’m getting to spend it with my children and my grandchildren. I feel very lucky.”

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