Northern Ireland

Clodagh Dunlop: Locked-in syndrome PSNI officer back to work

Clodagh Dunlop Image copyright PSNI Foyle
Image caption Clodagh Dunlop said returning to work felt like her head had come above water

A police officer who defied the odds and returned to work 18 months after suffering from locked-in syndrome said it was a moment she had dreamed of.

Clodagh Dunlop, of Magherafelt, County Londonderry, had a massive stroke in April 2015 which left her unable to move or speak for nearly three months.

She said it felt great to get back to day-to-day policing.

"It felt like my head had come above water - I took a gasp and was able to breathe again," she said.

"It was nice to see colleagues that I knew and talk about what I'm going to do in the future, what job roles I'm going to have.

"I do know that I've changed a lot - in that I think I'm a lot more easy-going, a lot more positive and I feel a lot different to maybe how I used to be in the job.

"I think I've probably learnt a lot more patience."

'Sense of happiness'

She said the emotion of the day did not hit her like she had expected.

Image caption Clodagh won a community policing award in 2012

"Surprisingly it wasn't emotional, I thought it was going to be," Clodagh said.

"I had a little tear last night, I was a little bit nervous, but today I didn't feel at all emotional or nervous, just a real sense of happiness."

Locked-in syndrome is a condition whereby a patient is both conscious and aware, but completely paralysed and unable to speak.

They are usually able to move their eyes and are sometimes able to communicate by blinking.

There is no treatment or cure, and it is extremely rare for patients to recover any significant motor functions.

Image caption Clodagh was able to communicate by blinking

Clodagh said she now had one goal left to fulfil.

"There was always three things I really wanted to do in my recovery," she said.

"I wanted to be able to learn to drive again, I wanted to return to work and I wanted to run again.

"I've got two of the three goals now, so I'm going to work very hard, no matter how long it takes."

'Momentous day'

Her first day back in the job was hailed as a "momentous day" by her PSNI colleagues.

PSNI Foyle said she was a "true inspiration" and had kept her "infectious smile" throughout.

Image caption Clodagh pictured with her sister Diana, partner Adrian and staff from the brain injury unit at Musgrave Park Hospital

On its Facebook page, the force said she would "now be playing a meaningful role keeping people safe in Derry and Strabane, with a particular focus on drugs".

'Most terrifying'

Clodagh started showing signs of recovery on her birthday in May last year, and walked out of Belfast's Musgrave Park Hospital in November.

She had previously told the BBC what it was like being a "prisoner in your own body".

"I have been in a lot of situations that people would consider frightening - I have jumped out of an plane, been in public order situations as a police officer," she said.

"Just lying in ICU unable to speak is perhaps one of the most terrifying experiences of my life."

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