Northern Ireland

PSNI officer Clodagh Dunlop charts her recovery from locked-in syndrome

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Media captionClodagh Dunlop told her story to BBC Radio Foyle's Elaine Magee

As a police officer, 35-year-old Clodagh Dunlop has had more than her fair share of daunting experiences.

But after she suffered a massive stroke in April, she found herself with locked-in syndrome.

It was the most "terrifying experience of my life", she said.

For almost three months, Clodagh, from Magherafelt, County Londonderry, was unable to move and speak. She could only communicate by blinking, but her mind remained completely alert.

Locked-in syndrome can affect a small percentage of people when they have a stroke.

There is no treatment or cure and recovery is very rare.

In her first broadcast interview since regaining her speech, Clodagh told the BBC that while her body was left completely paralysed, she was fully aware of everything that was happening around her.

"I remember everything from the first moment I woke in the intensive care unit," she said.

"It was a very surreal experience. I wanted to shout out to everyone 'I'm here!'.

"I could see my family and partner, Adrian, were so upset and I wanted to reassure them, but I couldn't do anything. You are a prisoner in your own body."

It was on her birthday in May that Clodagh started to show signs of breaking free from being locked-in.

Image caption Clodagh was based in Londonderry as a PSNI officer and in 2012 won a community policing award

"My friend visited me and I was trying to communicate to her that I wanted tablets," she said.

"I had a spell-board and blinked out everything, but she was assuming what I had said.

"I was so angry. I screamed at her and that was the first time I could make noise and my arms moved slightly.

"I went from angry to overjoyed. It was a remarkable moment."

'Letting Go'

Locked-in syndrome affects particular parts of the brain and Clodagh has had to relearn basic bodily functions like breathing and swallowing

She is now learning to walk again at the brain injury unit at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast. Her long-term goal is to run four miles as she used to do every day.

"I've had to somewhat mourn my own death," she said.

"The person who I was is still inside me, but I have had to accept that I'll never be that person again. I have to let go of her.

"I have learned a lot about humility and compassion.

"You are a silent observer of the world when you are locked in. I want to share my experience so I can help others and make a difference."

Image caption Clodagh Dunlop from Magherafelt, with her partner Adrian

For eight years, Clodagh was based in Londonderry as a PSNI officer and in 2012 won a community policing award.

It is a role she hopes to return to one day.

"I'm just taking every day as it comes," she said

"I would love to return to work.

"I loved Derry and I loved the people. I would feel really proud if one day, I could go back."