Sheffield stroke survivor shares her first glimmer of hope

Professional singer, songwriter and music teacher Sarah Jay Hawley is supporting the Stroke Association’s ‘Hope After Stroke’ Christmas appeal, after surviving a life changing stroke five years ago.
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Sarah, aged 52 from Sheffield, was initially told she would never read again, yet has now finished writing her first book.

She said: “When I first had a stroke, I thought my life was over. Now I feel I’m a better person than I was pre-stroke. At the time, my life was way too hectic. I was a single mum, performing and teaching music, and the Head of Department at the British Institute of Modern Music in Manchester. I’d spent years building up my career and I loved it. I’d toured with Massive Attack, performed at Glastonbury and written songs for them and many other artists. Then the rug was completely pulled from under my feet.”

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Stroke survivor Sarah Jay HawleyStroke survivor Sarah Jay Hawley
Stroke survivor Sarah Jay Hawley
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In 2015, Sarah woke in the middle of the night with pins and needles shooting through the right side of her body, face and brain. She had also lost her vision. After days of trying to get an answer, her doctor ran tests and realised she had lost her right side vision in both eyes. She was eventually sent to hospital and taken to the stroke ward, where she was given the devastating news she’d had a stroke.

She said: “One of the first things I did when I got home was sit at my piano and played a chord. When you lose your vision, your other senses get stronger. It was almost like I could see music as colour. It felt like I could see the chords and the vibrations as patterns and swirls. It was just beautiful and a first glimmer of hope for me during my recovery.”

Sarah was supported by the Stroke Association’s Stroke Recovery Service in Sheffield. She said: “The amazing team from the Stroke Association visited me and were so supportive. I don’t think I’d even be here if those women hadn’t been as present, as committed and as wonderful as they were. The really helped me to get my head round this new life. All the changes were immense.”

Sarah’s stroke had not only affected her vision but also her memory and her ability to read. “I could read individual words slowly but couldn’t piece them together. As a musician and writer I was adamant there was no way that I was going to lose that part of my life. I had an idea to write short stories behind all the songs I’d written. It was a very personal project and gave me a reason to try to get up in the morning. This has developed into my first book, which has been an amazing journey. The book is about recovery, hope and resilience and the healing power of music and creativity.

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“I’ve now started teaching online again 6-8 hours a week. I’ve had to focus on what I am able to do rather than what I should be able to do; and I celebrate every tiny step. I want people to know it can and will get better. Keeping that hope alive is so important. Now I’m really in love with life again.”

Sarah is asking people to make a donation to the Stroke Association’s work supporting survivors and their families, as they rebuild their lives this Christmas. The charity estimates that there are 12,200 people living with the effects of stroke in Sheffield, while around 100,000 people have a stroke across the UK every year.

Kate Charles, Regional Director at the Stroke Association said: “When someone’s life has been shattered by stroke, they may feel all hope is gone. But we also know that stroke survivors cling onto even the smallest glimmer of hope. This is what powers them on to achieve what many thought would be impossible”

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