July 11, 2017

From brick-maker to nurse: One 44-year-old's improbable journey after a stroke

Daily Briefing

    John McElroy worked at a brick factory for nearly 25 years before he had a stroke. During his recovery, he decided to pursue his childhood dream: becoming a nurse.

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    "When I was younger I always wanted to be a nurse," he told CNN. Now, he's a nurse at St. Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospital in St. Helens, England—but the journey wasn't easy.

    A life-changing stroke

    In March of 2007, McElroy had what he thought was a small headache. While out at a pub with some friends, he all of a sudden became very dizzy, so he went home and slept.

    By the time he woke up, the dizziness had gotten worse. "The world was spinning like 500 miles an hour," he said. "It was as if something inside my head had just exploded."

    McElroy was rushed to the hospital, and after five days of testing, doctors discovered he'd had a stroke. He'd lost sight in his right eye and was barely able to form words.

    Soon after his stroke, McElroy lost his job due to lingering dizziness and problems with balance and coordination. "Although my wife was working, we were struggling financially," he said. "I was thinking, I'm not ready for the scrapheap. I am too young."

    From brick-maker to RN

    During a follow-up hospital visit, McElroy met a nurse who inspired him to pursue his childhood dream. "She said, 'You would make a fantastic nurse,'" he said. "(She said) you will have loads of excuses to not do this, to fail, to quit. But you've got to carry on."

    After speaking with the nurse, McElroy decided to start his journey toward a career in medicine. Upon enrolling in classes at a local college, he realized that learning a complex new field while recovering from a stroke would not be easy. "I can't tell you how many times I sort of wanted to stop. I said, 'I just can't do this,'" he remembered.

    Eventually, McElroy discovered that he had a learning disability known as acquired dyslexia. The university connected him with a learning facilitator who helped coach him through his disability, and in 2012, McElroy graduated with a nursing degree.

    Now, McElroy works with patients who have brain or spinal conditions, and whose experiences are similar to his own. He uses his story to encourage his patients, hoping that, by hearing what happened to him and how he's overcome it, his patients will gain confidence that things will get better.

    "I hope people can know that it's not the end of the world," he said. "There is light at the end of the tunnel" (Vaughan, CNN, 7/7).

    Key takeaways for nursing leaders: Health care reform beyond the ACA

    Bradford Koles, Jr., Executive Director

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