Candice Donner has spent two years putting her life back together after a stroke in March 2015.

She was just 35 when it happened.

One second she was milking cows in Edgecumbe, the next feeling dizzy. Then she was on the ground.

A few minutes later, she was sitting up, insisting to her husband that she felt fine.

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But she wasn't.

The stroke destroyed brain tissue, leaving her paralysed on her left side.

"It was a massive trauma. I lost more than a third of my right frontal lobe, which is responsible for the movement on the left side of my body."

Doctors later found a previously undiagnosed hole in her heart and deep vein thrombosis in her leg.

Stuck in a tiny hospital room for months, relearning how to care for herself in the simplest ways, she felt robbed of her dignity. Her marriage ended. Another blow.

The prospect of ever returning to a normal life seemed impossible, and she mourned her old life.

Candice Donner with her sons Reilly and Oscar, after the stroke. Photo/Supplied
Candice Donner with her sons Reilly and Oscar, after the stroke. Photo/Supplied

"If I had been able to look forward and see myself even a year on, it would have been a huge help," she said.

With unmatched focus and constant goal setting, Ms Donner has forged a new life - not the one she had planned, but one she was grateful to have.

That bloody stroke nearly killed her.

Today, she lives independently with her two sons in Te Puke.

She drives and has started full-time study towards a Bachelor of Community Health at Toi-Ohomai - typing her assignments with one hand.

In her spare time, she has been exploring Paralympic sports.

"The biggest thing has been setting myself goals. It's the easiest way to measure my progress.

"My first goal was to walk around the Mount. This year, I got up to the top. It was brutal, but I did it."

Two years earlier, she could not even roll over in bed.

Candice Donner at the top of Mauao, two years after having a stroke. Photo/Supplied
Candice Donner at the top of Mauao, two years after having a stroke. Photo/Supplied

Ms Donner does not gloss over the hard bits and has been open about all aspects of her recovery, including the mental struggles.

"Some days are okay, and some days you cry just trying to open a bag of chips for your son," she said.

Ms Donner's openness and grit have been an inspiration to staff at the Midlands branch of the Stroke Foundation.

"She is just a totally awesome lady. I take my hat off to her. She has had so many ups and downs but she just gets up and keeps fighting," branch manager Tracie Gutrie said.

"She's so supportive of others. She is a fabulous example to anyone who has suffered a disability through injury - if you can battle it, you can win."

In 2020, she will be due to graduate and turn 40. Her oldest boy will be 21 and her youngest 7.

Looking forward to that time, she hoped to have some improved movement and functionality on her left side.

She was thinking she would like to get into health promotion, helping people live healthier lives - particularly in the Maori community.

Ms Donner was incredibly grateful to the family and friends - old and new - who had supported her recovery.

Asked what motivated her to work so hard to get her life back, she said it was her boys and her youth.

"There is still so much life to be lived."

Stroke facts

- 9000: strokes in New Zealand each year
- 2500: people die from a stroke every year
- 60,000: stroke survivors in New Zealand
- $450m: annual cost of strokes
- 2 to 3 times: increased risk of a ischaemic stroke to Maori
- 60: average age of stroke onset for Maori
- 60-75: average age of stroke onset for non-Maori

Source: Stroke Foundation

Know the signs of a stroke

Remember FAST:

- Face: drooping
- Arm: weakness
- Speech: difficulty
- Time: to call 111.