A story of survival: Mother charts daughter's recovery from brain aneurysm doctors said would probably kill her in incredibly touching photo diaryMother-of-two Cheryl Roach, 35, collapsed during a birthday shopping trip in Great Yarmouth, when a large aneurysm burst in her brainHer mother Sharon recalls: 'They warned me it was unlikely she'd make it and if she did, she could be permanently disabled'
Sharon took her first set of photos after Cheryl came out of theatre
It started as a picture book of death but became a portrait of survival
06:50 GMT, 10 July 2012
On the mend: Mother-of-two Cheryl Roach, 32, collapsed during a birthday shopping trip in Great Yarmouth
As Cheryl Roach lay fighting for her life in a hospital bed, her mother Sharon tentatively took a grainy photo of her.
She had been told her daughter was close to death, but with no idea what to say to Cheryl's
young children, she took the step of creating a photo
diary to capture her last moments.
The mother-of-two had collapsed
during a birthday shopping trip when a large aneurysm burst in her
brain, leaving her close to death
Sharon wanted Ashleigh and Leo, now 15 and eight, to understand what had happened.
But amazingly, model Cheryl, now 35, lived – and what started as a picture book of death became a portrait of survival.
Now Cheryl uses the diary to fill in the gaps in her memory.
It also inspired the budding artist to create a series of works based on her experiences.
She enrolled on an art course eight months after coming out of her coma hoping it would help her recovery.
Sharon, 54, says: 'It may seem odd to take pictures of your daughter in that state but keeping the diary gave me a way to deal with all the waiting and hoping.
'Now, it is a document of Cheryl's determination to live – and that makes me very proud.'
Cheryl's journey began in 2008 when the headaches started.
'They were so severe I couldn't lift my head from the pillow,' she says. 'The doctor put it down to high blood pressure.'
But on January 28, 2009, during a shopping trip to Great Yarmouth, she collapsed in a clothes shop.
'I remember feeling hot then getting a terrible pain in my head and slumping to the floor,' says Cheryl, whose mother was by her side at the time. 'After that, everything's a blur.'
Sharon took her first set of photos that evening after Cheryl came out of theatre. She fought back tears as she captured her daughter on life support amid the bleeping machinery keeping her alive
Sharon says: 'No mother should have to watch their child fight for life – the diary also helped me come to terms with the trauma'
Cheryl was rushed to Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital with a bleed on the brain.
But in the ambulance she started fitting and paramedics struggled to revive her.
Fighting back tears, Sharon recalls: 'The doctors explained Cheryl was on life support after a very bad bleed which covered three parts of her brain. They warned me it was unlikely she'd make it and if she did, she could be permanently disabled.'
Fighting back tears, her mother Sharon recalls: 'The doctors explained Cheryl was on life support after a very bad bleed which covered three parts of her brain
'Whenever it got too much, I'd sneak off somewhere quiet and get out the diary,' says Sharon
Fighting for her life: First signs of Cheryl regaining consciousness in hospital after she collapsed
Medics wanted to transfer Cheryl to
Addenbrooke's Hospital, which had better equipment, but feared she
wouldn't make the journey.
'I insisted they make the transfer,' says Sharon. 'We had to do everything possible.'
Meanwhile, Sharon was tormented by how to break the news to the children.
'How could I tell them their mummy had gone shopping and was never coming back' she says.
'Ashleigh knew her mum was very sick but Leo was too young to understand.'
Fidgeting with her bag, Sharon realised she had her digital camera with her, so she decided to record the last moments.
Gradually, Cheryl started to improve. Sharon says: 'One afternoon I was holding her hand and her thumb moved. It was just a tiny twitch but it gave us hope'
On the road to recovery: Cheryl smiles as she recovers in hospital. Finally, after five weeks in hospital, Cheryl was discharged – though she was in a wheelchair, suffering blurred vision, memory loss and numbness
'If Cheryl didn't make it, they would at least see her last hours,' she explains.
Sharon took her first set of photos that evening after Cheryl came out of theatre.
She fought back tears as she captured her daughter on life support amid the bleeping machinery keeping her alive.
'Cheryl had been a successful advert and pop video model. And here I was taking pictures of her at her worst.
'Doctors would monitor her every 30 minutes while I held her hand, willing her to pull through.
WHAT IS A RUPTURED BRAIN ANEURSYM
Only around 1 in 12,500 people will have a ruptured brain aneurysm in any given year in England.
An aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel that's caused by a weakness in the blood vessel wall.
As the blood passes through the weakened blood vessel, the blood pressure causes it to bulge outwards like a balloon.
Aneurysm can occur anywhere in the body but the two most common places for them to form are in the abdominal aorta and the brain.
Most brain aneurysms will only cause noticeable symptoms if they split open (the medical term for this is a ruptured aneurysm).
Source: NHS Choices
Whenever it got too much, I'd sneak
off somewhere quiet and get out the diary. Some days I'd write for
hours, others I'd only have time for a few lines, but putting things
Cheryl started to improve.
Sharon says: 'One afternoon I was holding
her hand and her thumb moved. It was just a tiny twitch but it gave us
hope. And then we noticed some of her braids on the floor so she must
have been pulling them out in her sleep.'
Two days after a second op, Cheryl's eyes flickered open.
was ecstatic,' remembers Sharon. 'Surely this was a sign she was going
to pull through' But doctors urged Sharon not to get her hopes up.
Then, a fortnight after the first collapse, Cheryl woke up.
says: 'I remember a nurse saying, 'Open your eyes, Cheryl. Open your
eyes.' I didn't have a clue where I was. Mum explained I'd collapsed and
was in hospital but it was too much to take in.
Cheryl and her mother Sharon holding the diary. 'I do struggle to remember stuff but the diary helped with that. Mum's love and support have really helped my recovery,' said Cheryl
When Mum handed me a mirror all I could think was that my eyebrows needed plucking!' Suddenly, what had started out as a photographic memoir of Cheryl's death turned into the story of her survival.
Every step forward was captured – from regaining consciousness to taking her first steps. Finally, after five weeks in hospital, Cheryl was discharged – though she was in a wheelchair, suffering blurred vision, memory loss and numbness.
'But I was so happy to go home,' says Cheryl. '
Ashleigh had been to visit a few times but I'd no recollection and Leo had only been once. He'd screamed when he had to leave me. He's autistic and doesn't cope well with change.'
Doctors warned it could take years for Cheryl to fully recover so Sharon moved in to help.
Cheryl says: 'I had to start over. I slurred, I couldn't dress myself and had to learn to walk. I was used to being very active but now I needed help just to get upstairs.
Cheryl refuses to let her health problems stand in her way – she's planning a return to modeling and started a university art course in 2010 – graduating this year
'I couldn't even cook the kids' tea – because of my memory loss I kept forgetting things would be hot when I took them out of the oven and so kept burning myself.
It was like I'd woken up a different person. I needed to make sense of those lost weeks.'
So Sharon told Cheryl about the diary and Cheryl began looking at the photos to fill in the blanks.
She says: 'I was shocked when I first saw the pictures and read Mum's words. It made me realise just how ill I'd been – and how lucky I'd been to pull through.'
Cheryl worked hard on her recovery but frighteningly, the headaches returned after a few months and a scan last July revealed that surgery had only removed 90%.
She'd need further treatment and this January – a year to the day after she first collapsed – Cheryl had eight hours of surgery to repair the blood vessel.
Looking to the future: Cheryl with Ashleigh and Leo, now 15 and eight
Survival: Cheryl (second left) relaxing at home with her friends and family
Cheryl says: 'There was a 30 per cent chance I wouldn't survive but I tried to remain positive. Mum got the diary back out and started taking photos again.'
Although the operation was a success, Cheryl still suffers from dizzy spells and may need further surgery in the future.
But she refuses to let her health problems stand in her way – she's planning a return to modeling and started a university art course in 2010 – graduating this year.
She says: 'When I held my first art exhibition I was so proud because at times it seemed impossible. I enrolled eight months after coming out of a month long coma to help stimulate my brain and aid my recovery.
'I do struggle to remember stuff but the diary helped with that. Mum's love and support have really helped my recovery. My daughter's seen the diary but for a long time I didn’t let Leo see the pictures – because it was just too upsetting.'
Sharon says: 'No mother should have to watch their child fight for life – the diary also helped me come to terms with the trauma.
'To be honest, I never imagined that Cheryl would end up reading it but I'm proud it's helping her to understand everything she went through and why her life is different now.
'I thought I'd stop after she left hospital but it's become an ongoing thing, marking each step of her recovery. I try to write in it most days and take new photos once a week. It's her legacy of survival – and I want to be there every step of the way.'