Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Sunday, 4 May 2008 00:01 UK

'They said I would never be a doctor'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Dr Satinder Sanghera
The stroke left Dr Sanghera badly disabled

This year Dr Satinder Sanghera celebrates 15-years as a GP - a career everyone told her she should forget.

As a second-year medical student Dr Sanghera had a massive stroke and lost her speech and the use of one side of her body.

Experts said Dr Sanghera was so badly disabled and her recovery so slow that she would never be fit enough to go into medicine.

She was so 'ashamed' by her stroke that Dr Sanghera only feels able to talk about her experiences now, two decades later.

No risk

"It is only in this last year that I thought I had something to be proud of," she said.

Some doctors in hospitals where she worked said she was too disabled to become a doctor and 'a token gesture'.

The consultants were very clear at the onset that because of the density of the stroke and the slow progress of recovery that I would not be able to resume medical studies
Dr Satinder Sanghera

But this year, following a happy marriage, she has started to look objectively at her struggle.

"I am starting to feel proud of myself rather than ashamed.

"I had this 22 years ago, but never really talked about it because I always felt very ashamed.

"I feel I might not have achieved everything I wanted to, but I have achieved enough," she said.

Determination

Dr Sanghera, now aged 42, from Weardale County Durham, said that she had been determined to do her chosen career - despite the stroke.

"Before the stroke I was extremely fit. I did a number of sports and ran for the county and was extremely fit.

"I was invincible. I had the world at my feet.

"I did not have any risk factors. I was not a smoker. I was not obese, I did not have high blood pressure. I had started the contraceptive pill the year before and that was my only risk factor - it is a tiny risk, but I was that one in a million.

A stroke graphic. Pic caption: P.Marseaud, ISM, Science Photo Library
Areas of the brain can be damaged by stroke

"When I had the stroke it was what is called a 'dense stroke'. I had complete sensory loss and motor loss over the left hand side of the body. I also lost my speech.

"I was in hospital for four months and the recovery was slow, particularly the arm.

"The prognosis was poor in terms of being able to walk again or use the right arm again," she said.

And Dr Sanghera said she had little encouragement that she would recover enough to resume her studies.

"The consultants were very clear at the onset that because of the density of the stroke and the slow progress of recovery that I would not be able to resume medical studies . They said that fairly early on but I disagreed.

"In the end I only took a year out," she said.

Back to university

She had one strong backer who persuaded Cardiff University to take her back.

"One of the consultants took my case to the medical board and said they should let me back and give me a chance.

"He said he would set me goals of recovery such as writing, to walk reasonably and have a reasonable function in my arm. If I reached them when he reviewed me in a year they would let me back on the course.

"They all disagreed with him, saying that even if I was physically able to get about that there was no way I could deal with the workload.

"He really did stick his neck out for me," she said.

I realised that I might be disabled, but that my spirit was not broken
Dr Satinder Sanghera

Dr Sanghera put all her efforts into meeting the targets.

"I went swimming, but because of my spasticity could not do breast stroke had to learn front crawl. I also had to learn to write with my left hand.

"I did lots of walking and writing and when I was reviewed I was accepted back at university," she said.

But even after she was accepted back on the course Dr Sanghera felt she had a point to prove.

"I went out of my way to do the hardest things I could.

"It was a struggle," she said.

Dr Sanghera then spent time travelling in Africa and New Zealand as part of her studies and managed to try white water rafting, parachuting, sailing and hiking.

"I realised that I might be disabled, but that my spirit was not broken," she said.

Over the last 20 years Dr Sanghera has had about 12 operations on her leg, but feels that it is only for the last three years that she has been fully fit.

Laura Dart of the Stroke Association said Dr Sanghera's story was inspirational.

"A stroke can happen to any one at any age and a quarter of all strokes happen to people below the age of 65.

"A stroke affects people in different ways and Satinder has shown extreme determination and courage in overcoming the effects of her stroke and fulfilling her dream of becoming a doctor."


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