Leeds double stroke mum turned designer is honoured for her courage

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A MUM left unable to walk or speak after having her second stroke aged just 30 has rebuilt her life – and created an acclaimed fashion label.

Gemma McKeating, from Leeds, had her first stroke at 24 after her drink was spiked on a night out.

Gemma McKeating

Gemma McKeating

Then last year she had a second, which affected her severely and meant she couldn’t even speak to her son on his second birthday.

The 31-year-old has battled back and not only has a full-time job but runs her own clothes firm, which has been featured in fashion bible Vogue – with her efforts now being recognised in an award from a national charity.

She said: “After my stroke I feared I’d no longer be able to hold my son or spend precious time with my family.

“It’s been a long road to recovery and I still have weakness in my left side, but I’m proof that there is a life after stroke. I was so excited to return to full time work and my fashion business is growing, thanks to the support of my customers and my amazing family.”

Ms McKeating, from Beeston, was left terribly ill after her drink was spiked while she was on a night out in Leeds. The stroke she suffered as a result left her with epilepsy which was difficult to control.

Then in May last year, she became ill and had 40 seizures in two days - causing another stroke.

“My body couldn’t take it any more,” she said.

“I just felt trapped, I couldn’t move and I knew my speech was affected, but then I fell unconscious.”

Ms McKeating was taken to Leeds General Infirmary but was unable to walk or talk, while movement on her left side had been badly affected.

“A month after my stroke it was my son Archie’s second birthday and I couldn’t help him open his presents or say happy birthday,” she said.

“That was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced.”

After four months she was able to stand with a walking stick, and therapy helped regain her speech and movement.

But she faced a battle keep her own fashion label, which she’d started just three weeks earlier, up and running.

The mum, who has previously struggled with an eating disorder, was inspired to make her own creations after ordering a dress in size medium which she realised was actually a tiny size 6.

That led her to create Uncommon Nonsense, a label for women of all sizes, after her dresses proved popular online.

After months of planning and marketing, the orders came flooding in - just before Gemma was taken seriously ill.

As she recovered, her mum Agnes stepped in to fulfil the orders and friends rallied round. Determined to help, Gemma assisted packing the clothes and taught herself to sew using one side.

Now she is recovered other than ongoing weakness on her left side, and Uncommon Nonsense has gone from strength-to-strength, even being covered in Vogue magazine earlier this year.

Ms McKeating also works full-time managing student accommodation in Bradford and this week was recognised through a Life After Stroke Award from the Stroke Association at an event in Leeds.

She said: “It was very emotional. You feel for a few moments as though your world has come to an end but everyone has turned it around to open a door.”

Her fashion label is at http://uncommon-nonsense.co.uk or follow @UNonsenseUK on Twitter. She is also planning a bike ride from Edinburgh to London in support of the charity next April.

* Her determination to recover led Gemma to be highly commended for the Stroke Association’s Adult Courage award.

She was put forward for the honour by fashion blogger Isabella Stockwell, who said: “Her story really is one of bravery and sheer determination.

“She regularly communicates with other stroke survivors to offer support and she does so with a light-hearted spirit. Not only has she been published in Vogue, created a business from scratch and worked in another job, but she is also a wonderful mother to her son Archie. She shows that there is hope and life after stroke.”

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