For some people, being diagnosed with a long-term disease or condition will leave one feeling weak, victimized or borderline suicidal.
However, this was not the case for Dawn, diagnosed with locked-in syndrome after a stroke. This global citizen is a university graduate and is currently writing her autobiography; doing so through blinking and moving her head side to side as means of achieving her dreams.
Her story dates back from 11 years ago – in 2003. Only being 26 weeks pregnant with her son, she was rushed to hospital and later diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a disorder strongly characterized by high blood pressure. With the condition worsening by the day, she was forced to deliver the baby after only 6 days in hospital through an emergency C Section. Her son, Alexandra weighed an alarming 680 g.
Shortly after her delivery she returned home still battling high blood pressure, a major characteristic of pre-eclampsia, however equipped with hope that she will recover. Although her baby boy was improving by the day in hospital, her health was deteriorating – with only a week into her home stay, one dreaded night she woke up light-headed, slurring words and feeling dizzy.
She was immediately admitted to hospital and was falling in and out of consciousness. Although her consciousness was not steady, she continuously showed an inability to move, talk or breathe on her own; with one tube stuck in her neck to breathe and one through her nose to feed her.
One can only imagine the feeling of desperation and helplessness when she was able to hear her family discuss her condition and hear the doctors breaking the news to her loved ones. She endured even more emotional pain when family members updated her on her environment while she couldn’t show physical emotion, while her mind was desperately trying to portray a sign that she is responding to the conversation – but to no avail on the physical side. The one place which she existed in – her body – became a prison, her being in a lifelong solitary confinement.
Although diagnosed with the lock-in syndrome, Dawn believed that she could still achieve her dreams with what was working in her body – her brain, her left eye with its long thick batting lashes, and slight movements with her head. Through the aid of technology, dawn managed to obtain a specialized laptop that can translate eye movements into text.
In 2008, after moving into her parents after her husband left her, she decided to enroll into Open University to pursue a degree in ancient history. For three hours everyday of her life, she kept nudging buttons on either side of her head to move the cursor and blinking systematically to generate letters. This process has enabled her to write 50 words an hour, meaning that a three-hour examination would be stretched into three weeks.
Her tenacity and perseverance has paid off, Dawn will be graduating in October this year in Manchester, England. Not only does she have a bachelor’s degree in Ancient history under her belt, but she also has a written memoir, Slowly Making Ripples: a book which clearly defines the accomplishments, trials, agonies and successes of an electric mind in a still body.