Sophie Clayton carefully places one foot in front of the other as she steps out onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s a feat made amazing by the fact that she suffered a stroke when she was just four-years-old.
It was August 2010 and Sophie, from Brisbane, was having a play date with her cousin when she suddenly walked out of the room and collapsed.
“She had a full stroke directly in front of me,” Sophie’s mum Amanda tells Be.
“She walked out of her playroom and her face, her speech, her arms on the right side of her had disappeared. Completely gone. She was perfectly healthy just playing with her cousins.”
Recognising the signs of stroke, Amanda immediately called an ambulance and Sophie was rushed to hospital where she had an MRI and lifesaving treatment within four hours.
It’s because of this that Sophie, now 11, has been able to recover to a point of being able to walk out of the hospital after ten days, and now climb all 1000 steps of the Harbour Bridge.
“It’s very unusual to have a stroke at that age, so they generally go through all the other possibilities, like a seizure, so that’s why it’s important to know the signs,” Amanda tells us.
While it was touch and go for Sophie initially, it only took 10 days and lots of determination for her to be able to leave hospital, although her recovery has continued since.
A big part of her progress has been her little brother Elliot always pushing her.
“He would sit on her weaker side in hospital and just poke her so she would hit him and move her arm. And he stole her balloons so she would have to get up and chase him,” Amanda explains.
The stroke left Sophie with weakness on her right side, some speech issues and she has had difficulty learning. But Amanda’s special therapy techniques have helped Sophie improve in leaps and bounds.
“Basically you have to find what makes her want to move,” Amanda says. “You have to make it fun and engaging and include the whole family.”
“We did the therapies at the hospital and they were great, but then it was the therapies at home, like baking cakes, using smarties, daring each other, riding bikes, riding scooters, kids are so willing to give things a go.”
For example Sophie explains it was a quadbike that helped her regain use of her right hand.
“My friends own a farm and they have a quadbike and the button to start it was on my right-hand side, so it was really hard at first but then I got the hang of it,” Sophie tells Be.
To help Sophie learn how to jump and hop Amanda and dad Jamie made her a tail and encouraged her to hop like a kangaroo.
After stroke, survivors need to retrain the brain and effectively form new pathways. The only way to do this is by repetition, which is hard for adults but for kids almost impossible.
“Sophie is constantly setting herself goals and achieving them and climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was another demonstration of what is possible,” Amanda says.
While her recovery continues, by sharing her story Sophie and Amanda want everyone to know the signs of stroke: FAST – Face, Arm, Speech and Time.
And the mum says she couldn’t be prouder of how far Sophie has come.
“To see her climb that bridge and standing at the top, to see the sensory things she had to process, managing that and taking steps up and down her concentration was amazing,” she says.
“She is amazing, she blows me away all the time.”
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