By Dan Coles
A teenage cheerleader who survived two strokes before the age of 20 – after doctors told her it was ANXIETY – has gone on to become a national champion.
Keen cheerleader Holly Curthoys, 19, was sat in a maths class in 2013 aged 13 when her speech suddenly slurred and one side of her face started to droop.
She was rushed to hospital, but claims doctor send her home with antibiotics after scans failed to diagnose a problem – until one year later in 2014 when dad Robert Curthoys, 54, a car salesman, suffered the same problem.
Medics then realised both Holly and her dad suffered from a Patent Foramen Ovale [PFO] – a rare hole in the heart which can causes strokes when blood clots slip through the gap – and Holly was forced to undergo a 10-day hospital stay before being left housebound while she recovered.
In 2018, Holly was teaching children gymnastics, when she noticed she stopped being able to use her arm and her speech was slurred – making her suspect she was having a second stroke.
Now 19, ambulance care assistant Holly has become a world champion flyer with Paracheer, a new division of cheerleading for mixed disabled and able-bodied cheerleaders, and refuses to let her condition get in the way of her dreams.
Holly, from Bristol, said: “I was sat in maths class when my teacher came over to me after I stopped responding to anyone.
“I couldn’t speak properly, and my face started to slant to one side.
“They called my mum and told her they think I was having a stroke, but they told her it would be quicker to come and take her to hospital herself.
“When I got to hospital, doctors didn’t believe it was a stroke because of my age, they put it down to anxiety.
“I knew it was worse than that so I asked to stay in hospital for more tests.
“After 10 days they sent me home, and advised I buy some over-the-counter paracetamol.
“When I had my second stroke after my dad, and received a diagnosis of PFO, it was scary – but I knew as soon as it happened that it was connected to the first one.
“The hardest part of having the strokes was losing my independence. I couldn’t go to school and I couldn’t cheerlead.
“As an athlete, when I cheerlead, I forget about my health and if anything, it pushes me harder to achieve even more.
“Cheerleading is amazing, it’s such a team-based sport, I’ve met people all over the world and you forget everything else that’s going on around you.
“Everyone is quite shocked when I tell them I’ve had two stokes – it’s unusual to have one, let alone two strokes aged 13 and 18.”
After Holly stopped responding at school during her first stroke, mum Lisa, a cardiology secretary, picked her up and took her to her to hospital.
But when nothing showed up on CT scans, doctors wanted to send her home but she refused and spent two weeks in hospital having constant tests.
Eventually she was discharged and her symptoms cleared up after a month of being home, with her and her family no closer to knowing the cause.
But a year later in 2014 Holly’s dad Robert suffered the same symptoms – slurring his words and finding it difficult to walk.
Doctors diagnosed a stroke before a cardiologist discovered Robert had a PFO – which anyone can have and which rarely shows any recognisable symptoms unless it causes a stroke.
In 2014 Lisa, 47, a cardiology assistant, pushed for Holly to also undergo the PFO test and she was diagnosed with the same condition despite it not being hereditary, meaning it was complete coincidence both she and her dad had it.
Robert was able to undergo surgery to repair the hole in his heart as this was available on the NHS in 2014.
But by the time Holly suffered her second stroke in 2018, the life-saving percutaneous closure operation to close the PFO which her dad had was no longer available on the NHS.
Holly, who began cheerleading aged 13 in 2013, is now fundraising for the £16,000 needed to get the hole in her heart fixed privately – but in the meantime has refused to give up on her favourite hobby.
The teenager, who had always been very athletic, is now flyer in England’s National Paracheer team, a troupe which competes in international cheerleading competitions across the globe – and won the world title in 2018.
Luckily, Holly doesn’t have any lasting symptoms after her two strokes but lives with the risk of having a third stroke at any time until the PFO is closed.
She said: “The operation I need to close the hole in my heart costs £16,000, I’m trying to raise that money so I can have my heart repaired.
“No one can understand why the operation costs so much and why I have not already had it.
“They question why in the past it wasn’t solved.
“Luckily, cheerleading allows me time to stop thinking about my heart.
“I just forget about everything when I’m performing.”
To donate to Holly cause click here: https://uk.gofundme.com/holly039s-heart-procedure-pfo