OLD; Stroke at 18, Osteoporosis at 10, Menopause at 16... the Young Women Conquering Conditions That Ought to Be Years Away Good Health

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Byline: LIZ BESTIC;SARAH SIMS

CONDITIONS such as heart disease and stroke are usually associated with growing older. But they can strike young people in their teens or early 20s. Here, LIZ BESTIC and SARAH SIMS speak to five young women suffering from diseases of old age.

STROKE JULIA PEEL, 29, is single and is an aromatherapist in Cambridge.

At the age of 18, she had a stroke which left her paralysed down her right side.

Julia says:

ONE evening, I suddenly felt my right arm go completely numb while I was studying.

I ran upstairs to get help from my flatmate but she thought I was joking.

When the numbness started to creep down my leg, I tried to say something but had lost the power of speech. It was then she realised I was seriously ill and called an ambulance.

I was rushed to Addenbrooke's where they diagnosed a blood clot in the brain which had caused a stroke. Three days later, I had surgery to remove the clot.

I don't remember anything about that first month in hospital because I was unconscious most of the time. My parents sat with me every day, terrified I wouldn't come around.

I had seven months of physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy. The neurologist had told me the stroke was so severe it was unlikely I would ever walk again but I was determined to prove him wrong.

It was a slow process. It was six weeks before I could move my leg and much longer to get any feeling back in my arm.

I went back to my studies - I had just started a history degree at the University of East Anglia - once I was discharged, even though I was walking with a stick and got very tired.

However, emotionally, I was totally unprepared for life outside hospital and my first year back at university was hell.

I couldn't take part in the social life or play hockey, which was my passion.

There were times when I would just cry and cry. I couldn't understand why this thing had happened to me at such a young age and I suddenly realised the impact the stroke would have on my life.

BUT TODAY things are much better. I finished my degree, and I can walk without a stick, although I still have a slight limp.

When I am very tired, I can't organise my thoughts and my speech gets slower but it doesn't affect my daytoday life.

This year I set up diffABILITY - a project which aims to show that people with disabilities are no different; they just have a different way of doing things.

I recently learned to sail and now want to embark on a round-the-UK Yacht Challenge to promote stroke awareness.

I am determined to show that disability can happen to anyone at any time: you never know what's around the corner.

The specialists think the stroke was caused by a weakness in the blood vessel in which I had a clot. When I had surgery, the doctors clipped off this particular blood vessel so I shouldn't have any more problems.

FOR more information about strokes: www.stroke.org.uk

OSTEOPOROSIS

JENNIFER BELK, 18, from Macclesfield, Cheshire, is studying for her A-levels.

She was diagnosed with a rare form of juvenile osteoporosis at the age of ten. Jennifer says:

WHEN I was nine, I broke my leg and was treated in hospital for ten weeks.

But when I came home, I couldn't walk properly and had a lot of back pain.

The doctors said my bones weren't healing properly but didn't seem to know why.

I was referred me to a specialist who said I was suffering from juvenile osteoporosis and that I had the bones of an old lady. This shocked me but I was too young to understand what it meant. My mother had osteoporosis but she had no idea that someone my age could get it.

She knew this would mean a big change in my life - I wouldn't be able to be a tomboy any more.

I had begun to get the 'dowager's hump' associated with the disease and was given a spinal jacket to wear to try to straighten my spine. …