Recovery takes to the road for Iris

By Kiri Gillespie

Tauranga identity Iris Thomas is thankful for every day she is able to reclaim a normal life - one that is soon to include a camper van.

Ms Thomas and partner Bruce Trask were running past the Judea Rugby Club on May 1 when she suffered a blinding headache, jelly legs and blurred vision. The energetic event planner and cycle safety advocate had a brain aneurysm.

An aneurysm is when a portion of a blood vessel balloons, causing risk of rupture. If an aneurysm does rupture, a person will bleed into their brain and can die within minutes.

Ms Thomas was taken to Tauranga Hospital and transferred to Waikato Hospital, where her bleed was stopped.

Nearly three months later, she is doing some of her former activities, such as daily walks around the Daisy Hardwick walkway.

She is still not allowed to drive, work or run and her recovery is expected to take at least a year but she has already made a strong comeback.

"I'm very, very lucky. But I just feel uncomfortable about people who have had an aneurysm and aren't as lucky as me ... I'm doing surprisingly well."

Community support has helped.

"Often these kinds of things can be a nine-day wonder where you forget about it after a while, but that hasn't happened. I'm very humbled."

Ms Thomas wanted to express her deep gratitude to the people who had supported her.

"Some people made cards, some cooked a meal, some took me out for coffee because I can't drive. I have a box with all the cards in it, I'm still getting cards now," she said.

Ms Thomas, who started the annual Tauranga Breast Cancer Walk, known as the "pink walk" in 2002, said the aneurysm helped put things into perspective.

For years, she and Mr Trask had dreamed about selling up and heading off in a camper to explore and travel.

As of Friday, the dream has become a reality with the purchase of a modest and tidy camper van.

"It was something that we were always going to do when we retired but with the way we were going, we were never going to retire," Ms Thomas said.

"So we thought we might as well do it while we are healthy, and decided to take the plunge."

The couple will take the van away for weekends until summer when they plan to travel around New Zealand.

They will sell their Judea home.

"If we wait until we're older we'll be limited with health and fitness and everything but these limits aren't affecting us at the moment, apart from me, but I don't see that as a limit," Ms Thomas said.

"This is the future for us."

What is a brain aneurysm?

  • Brain aneurysms are often discovered when they rupture, causing bleeding into the brain or the space closely surrounding the brain called the subarachnoid space, causing a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

  • Subarachnoid haemorrhage from a ruptured brain aneurysm can lead to a haemorrhagic stroke, brain damage and death.

  • Research in the United States estimates 10 to 15 per cent of brain aneurysm patients will die before reaching the hospital and over 50 per cent will die within the first 30 days after rupture. Of those who survive, about half suffer some permanent neurological deficit.

  • The most significant risk factors are cigarette smoking and having a close relative who has had an aneurysm.

  • Brain aneurysms can occur in people of all ages, but are most commonly detected in those aged 35 to 60.


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