TALKING to Sonya Houseman, you would have no idea how much time and effort it has taken for the 40-year-old to hold a normal conversation.
It’s hard to believe that after a brain haemorrhage at the age of just 26 she was left in a coma. Then – almost like a baby – she had to re-learn how to do everything again, from getting dressed and cleaning her teeth, to speaking and understanding.
Sonya, from Marton, initially thought she was suffering from one of her regular migraines – which she had experienced since she was around 11 or 12 – when she went to bed one night in July, 1999.
She had been with friends and came home early when the headache and nausea had started.
But in the morning, her devastated parents Karen and Bob, found her in a coma.
Sonya has no memory of what followed, but after being rushed to hospital and undergoing CT scans, she was transferred to the neurological unit at Royal Preston where she underwent life-saving brain surgery.
Karen said: “We just had to take things day by day, we couldn’t look beyond that.
“We could have lost her – from the haemorrhage, or from the surgery – she had a lot of hurdles to get over.
“But she got through it and after around three weeks in hospital, the paralysis went, they got her walking again and she could come home.”
But Sonya was left with a loss of memory – although she knew who her parents were – unable to speak, unable to understand what people were saying, unable to carry out simple tasks like cleaning her teeth.
She remembers waking up in hospital, completely unaware of what happened.
Sonya said: “There was a bandage on my head and I could hear this buzzing noise.
“I didn’t know what it was, but it turns out it was people talking. All these people were looking at me and I didn’t know why, but it turned out they were doctors and nurses.
“There was a breakfast in front of me, but I couldn’t move my arm to pick it up and I couldn’t speak.”
It needed a long spell of rehabilitation at home.
Karen said: “Everything was wiped, it was like the brain had shut down. The closest way I could describe it was like a computer crashing.”
But help from speech therapist Claire Thompson, from Blackpool Victoria Hospital, who Karen recently nominated for a Celebrating Success Award, really made a difference.
Claire is on the shortlist for the Gazette-backed awards – the winners of which will be revealed at a glittering ceremony in November.
Karen said: “Claire was a lifeline. Sonya had an awful lot of homework. When she got grumpy, frustrated or upset, we wouldn’t let her give up, and neither would Claire.
“As Sonya’s awareness grew of what had happened and things around her, she got to the stage where she wouldn’t give up either. Gradually, she kept improving.
“Claire was wonderful. She was so dedicated to Sonya, and had this just gentle but determined way of encouraging her. They have remained friends to this day.”
Sonya – who has since discovered a natural talent for salsa dancing – said: “At first I didn’t know anything - there were these cards with pictures and I didn’t know what they were.
“But as time went on, I became more aware. At times I felt stupid and pathetic and got frustrated, and things aren’t perfect now.
“I still forget the odd word or get words a bit mixed up sometimes. But I was like a baby at first, starting from scratch with everything. It was like learning everything all over again.
“Claire was amazing. Being able to communicate is so important, and perhaps gets overlooked a bit in the scheme of things.
“And it wasn’t just speech Claire helped me with - it was everything. She helped boost my confidence and my self-esteem.”
Last year, Claire introduced a lady to Sonya who had had a similar experience, and Sonya was able to help with her outlook, enabling her to achieve one of her recovery goals.