Cruel stroke strikes down talented Keiraville girl

Sarah Wharton, 12, with sister Gabby, two. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Sarah Wharton, 12, with sister Gabby, two. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Keiraville mother Vicky Wharton didn't know children could have strokes - now she is helping her 12-year-old daughter Sarah learn to walk and talk again.

At the start of November last year, the young girl was looking forward to pursuing her music dreams at Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts after a successful audition.

Instead Sarah is struggling to form sentences and walk unaided after suffering a stroke in the early hours of November 10.

"She picked up a stomach bug that was going around at school," Ms Wharton said. "She had been feeling unwell and that night she started vomiting - I last attended to her about 3am and when I went back in to wake her up that morning she was catatonic."

While Sarah had been diagnosed with a kidney condition called nephrotic syndrome when she was five years old, Ms Wharton said health professionals never warned she was at greater risk of stroke.

'I never knew kids could have strokes. This has been devastating for the whole family.'

According to the National Stroke Foundation, every year about two children in every 100,000 will have a stroke. The causes of childhood stroke are poorly understood but certain conditions, like heart disease or blood clotting problems, are thought to increase the likelihood of childhood stroke.

Nephrotic syndrome causes high levels of protein to pass from the blood into the urine, which can lead to blood clots.

"I never knew she was at a higher risk of stroke. I never knew kids could have strokes," Ms Wharton said. "This has been devastating for the whole family."

After the stroke, Sarah was rushed to Wollongong Hospital where she was promptly flown to Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick, where she underwent an emergency craniectomy to remove part of her skull to relieve the pressure build-up. The bone has yet to be replaced, and she has to wear a helmet for protection.

"She was completely paralysed down the right side and lost her speech," Ms Wharton said.

"Her speech is returning slowly but she still struggles to complete a sentence and to find the right words. She's walking again but she still gets foot drop and some of the muscles are not working down her right side."

Sarah's bedroom contains some of her favourite things - posters of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, pictures of her friends and her drum kit. But her mother does not know how much she will recover or how long it will take.

"She's incredibly courageous, I don't know where she has drawn her strength from," Ms Wharton said.

"She's such a talented girl but she's lost the things that defined her - her ability to sing, to drum, to talk. I have faith she will get better, it is just going to take some time."

Ms Wharton praised Wollongong Hospital, where Sarah undergoes physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy and attends school.

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