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No time for trauma

Flourish 24 Sep 2016

Stroke survivor Kathleen Jordan had no intention of putting her life on hold, so she got on with living.

Kathleen standing at her front gate

Kathleen Jordan's memoir Standing Up! begins with a sense of urgency. She recounts dashing with terrified haste towards the Royal Melbourne Hospital in an ambulance, from the meeting in which she had just collapsed. In the midst of this unexpected, radical change to her future, Kathleen thinks: "Really, I don't have time for this".

That was in 2011. Kathleen had just suffered a catastrophic haemorrhagic stroke - the most debilitating kind. Her best prognosis, should she survive, was a lifetime in residential aged care. Her condition was so severe doctors suggested a Do Not Resuscitate order.

But Kathleen, who ran her own leadership coaching business, Intuitive Insights and was on the board of the Bionics Institute, was known for her energy and determination.

"I was running countless workshops and strategic planning sessions, coaching sessions, travelling all around the world. I went from doing all that to lying in a hospital bed for two years," Kathleen says.

The 2016 publication of Standing Up! is intended to be the turning point. Written with author and historian Vicki Steggall, it tells Kathleen's story of hope, advocacy and survival after stroke.

Kathleen's story includes having to fight for the rehabilitation treatment she needed, rather than simply accepting the support offered by the Australian health system.

Her family and friends were vital in that process, especially after the registrar's initial grim prognosis. Their response? "You don't know Kathleen. She'll fight."

Vicki, speaking at the book's launch in July, said: "That's the power of words: this thought came out and went into everyone's brains. It's the heart of advocacy, the difference that families can make."

Kathleen's family continued to advocate for her health and treatment until she was well enough to take over.

Despite expectations she would need full-time care, Kathleen was able to move into her sister's granny flat in Northcote, in Victoria. Still partially paralysed down her left side, Kathleen requires assistance with showering, dressing and transport. She has physiotherapy and occupational therapy up to three times a week.

She has resumed activities such as dining out, seeing friends and going to the ballet, opera and films. She's soon to move into Australian Unity's new retirement apartments at Rathdowne Place in nearby Carlton, a "wellbeing precinct" with personal and home services, a library, hydrotherapy pool and private town car, close to Melbourne's CBD and parks, shops and amenities.

Standing Up! is more than the remarkable story of Kathleen's resilience, grit and determination, or the power of others' support in her recovery. It also contains practical advice on facing adversity with strength and hope.

"People raised their eyebrows when I talked about my intention of getting back to work - but I used the coaching tools that I once used with my clients," Kathleen says.

Those tools include monitoring her inner dialogue, counting the positives in her life and celebrating her successes. "If I have a day where I'm thinking 'this is all too hard', I just change and I think, 'yes, but be proud of how far you have come'."

On the night of the book launch, Kathleen demonstrated just how far that was. When it was time for her to say a few words in response to the speeches and anecdotes, Kathleen stood up and walked slowly to the lectern - a two-metre journey thought impossible for her in 2011.

Elegant and confident, the woman once identified for a Do Not Resuscitate order spoke in a clear voice filled with warmth and wit about a trauma that changed her life but didn't defeat her.

"Standing Up! is for anybody who's gone through major trauma," Kathleen says.

"It might be the death of a loved one, it might be divorce, it might be losing your job. It's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it. It's about being proactive and choosing life. It's a book about hope."

words Narrelle Harris
photos Dean Golja

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Standing Up! is available in bookshops, online or at

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