Brave student finishes degree months after stroke

AJ's parents will watch her graduate from Napier University tomorrow. Picture: Jane Barlow
AJ's parents will watch her graduate from Napier University tomorrow. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A STUDENT who nearly died after suffering a massive stroke aged just 21 has astonished doctors by finishing her degree just months later.

Ashley-Jane Kitchen had been ill with a stomach bug when she collapsed in agony, and suffered a seizure.

She was rushed to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in April 2012. Medics initially ruled out a stroke due to her age.

But further CT scans eventually revealed a massive bleed behind her eye – thought to have been triggered by a combination of severe dehydration and a rare but severe reaction to the contraceptive pill.

“I’d been really ill and woke up one evening and couldn’t feel my right side,” said the student – known as AJ.

“My whole body started shaking. I’d never had a fit before and this seemed to go on forever. I ended up falling out of bed, hitting my head on the bedside cabinet.

“I couldn’t move at all. It was terrifying.”

The Napier student was transferred to Western ­Hospital after a senior ­neurologist spotted the rare signs of cerebral venous thrombosis – a blood clot on the brain which had caused AJ to suffer a stroke.

Her parents, Sandy and Dave, flew in from her native Johannesburg in South Africa, having been told to prepare for the worst. She spent a week in the high dependency unit where her condition, which had left her paralysed, was monitored before she was given anti-clotting drugs.

“At the time I was so pumped full of drugs and slipping in and out of consciousness I didn’t really know what was going on. I remember thinking it must be bad because I was in a high-dependency unit and I knew I couldn’t move any part of the right-hand side of my body.

“They told my parents it was unlikely I would make a full recovery. In fact they had told them the most likely outcomes were either I would be left in a completely vegetative state or, in the worst case, die.”

But after a week of treatment her seizures were brought under control and she was moved on to a general ward but still struggled to sit up and open her eyes.

She then underwent intense physio to learn how to walk again – which AJ describes as being “like Bambi on ice”.

Determined to finish her accounting and corporate 
finance degree, AJ, of Tollcross, now aged 22, has not let her near-death experience detract from her studying.

After a turbulent year, her proud parents have now flown back over from South Africa to watch her graduate tomorrow.

Professor George Stonehouse, Dean of Edinburgh ­Napier’s Business School, said her battle back to health and her success in her studies was an inspiration.

“AJ’s courage and determination is an example to us all.”

An NHS Lothian source said: “Although rare, strokes can affect all age groups.”