COLERAINE woman Michelle Gifford flew the flag for Northern Ireland by winning a special Carer’s Award and mingling with a host of celebrities this week at the star-studded ‘Life After Stroke Awards’ in London.
The annual awards ceremony, which is organised by The Stroke Association charity, honoured the achievements of stroke survivors throughout the UK.
A total of 11 ‘Life After Stroke Awards’ were presented at Claridge’s Hotel, in what proved to be an emotional day for both winners and guests alike, especially for 33-year-old Michelle.
Michelle cares for her husband Stephen who had his first stroke in December 2008 at the age of just 31.
At the time, Michelle worked as a Tesco’s manager but had to give up her job to care for Stephen full-time.
They had been married for less than three years when Stephen was admitted to hospital, he was critically unwell and Michelle was taken into a side room to be told that it could be a fatality.
She barely left Stephen’s side in the ensuing days and weeks as she prayed for signs of his potential recovery. Initially his progress was very slow – he had no speech, he was bedbound and unable to sit up.
Michelle told the Times “I remember the first time I saw some signs of life in Stephen as his eyes followed someone walking past his bed.
“It was an amazing feeling after being told there was no hope. I made up folders of photos and brought DVDs into the hospital for Stephen to watch as we found he responded to different kinds of stimulants”.
Michelle has now dedicated her life to caring for Stephen. She is a positive, proactive and practical person who encourages Stephen to live as full a life as possible within the remit of his abilities.
The loss of personal freedom and shared activities have been a big challenge for her, however a simple fishing trip represented a major step forward for Stephen as Michelle explains; “The whole family was overcome with emotion when we saw Stephen back doing what he loved – fishing in Scotland.
“Let me tell you, there were a lot of tears that day!”
Famous faces in attendance at the awards included singer Stacey Solomon, presenter Lynda Bellingham, Strictly dancer Kristina Rihanoff, actors Amanda Donohoe and Charlie Clements, Turner Prize nominated artist Angela de la Cruz, war hero Johnson Beharry, football manager George Burley and West End performers Mark Evans and Louise Dearman.
Tom Richardson, Director for The Stroke Association Northern Ireland, said; “Michelle and all of the award winners have shown tremendous courage in rebuilding their lives after a stroke or in helping others to do the same.”