A grandmother has relived the terrifying moment when she performed CPR on her daughter following one of two brain aneurysms, which left her hospitalised for three months and turned the high-flying restaurateur and mum of two into a “grown up baby.”
Mum-of-two Carol Sleet, 47, had turned around a struggling restaurant after leaving the hospitality company where she was a director.
But on February 11 this year, life changed in a split second for Carol at her home in Leyland when a brain aneurysm - a bulge in the blood vessels caused by a weakness in their wall - ruptured while she was sorting out the loft.
Carol’s mum, Dawn Sleet, 65, said: “Carol had come back with her sons – my grandsons - after work to clear out the loft.
“I was visiting, and she went off downstairs to get something and when she wasn’t back within 10 minutes, I asked Jacob to go and see where she’d got to.
“Next thing I knew, he came running back upstairs saying, ‘Mum’s making a terrible noise.’
“I ran downstairs to find her on the floor fitting. I called 999 and the operator talked me through how to do CPR.
“My hand played up and before the paramedics arrived Jacob had to step in for me. It was a very, very harrowing moment for us all.”
Dawn and Carol went to Royal Preston Hospital in an ambulance. After an MRI scan, doctors realised Carol had suffered a ruptured aneurysm, causing a brain bleed, and took her to theatre for emergency surgery.
While a family friend looked after Carol’s children, her dad Mike drove to the hospital and waited anxiously with Dawn during the five-hour operation.
They also phoned her brothers, plumber Nicky Sleet, 41, and mechanic John Sleet, 45, to break the news.
“I knew I needed people to be praying so I called my old church and asked them all - everyone there - to pray for Carol,” said Dawn, whose daughter’s was one of only 12,500 ruptured aneurysms to occur in England each year, according to the NHS.
While she was in theatre, surgeons performed endovascular coiling surgery which, done under general anaesthetic, involves inserting a thin tube, or catheter, into an artery, before guiding it through a network of blood vessels into the aneurysm itself.
Tiny platinum coils are then passed through the tube into the aneurysm, meaning it is sealed off, so blood cannot enter it and it cannot grow.
To Dawn’s relief, surgery was a success and, miraculously, within just a few days, Carol was sitting up in her hospital bed talking.
“We were just so relieved that she’d woken up,” Dawn said. “We were so unsure how things were going to play out.”
But, to the family’s horror, further scans two weeks after the initial operation revealed Carol had a second aneurysm on her brain, which had not yet ruptured.
Dawn recalled: “Doctors were absolutely amazed when they came in to check on Carol and she was sat up so soon after such invasive surgery.
“But literally two weeks after the first operation, they had found the second aneurysm.
“She was told she had two options – to wait and see what happened, or to have more surgery.
“Of course, she chose the surgery. The alternative wasn’t an option - imagine having a ticking time bomb walking around with you. Without a doubt, it would have killed her if it had ruptured.
“Having seen her come through the last operation so well, we thought nothing of it - that it would be a piece of cake. “
So, just two weeks after her initial operation, Carol was back in theatre.
This time, surgery – again, to coil the aneurysm - lasted a painstaking 10 hours, with far less successful results.
“Those 10 hours were some of the worst of my life - it was awful,” Dawn recalled.
“After what felt like a lifetime, doctors came to take the family into a side room, where they told us that Carol had suffered two miniature strokes during the operation, after they struggled to coil the aneurysm.
“I’ve never cried so much in my life as I did that day. They told us that Carol might never walk or talk ever again.”
While their mum lay in an induced coma, Carol’s children, Jacob, 15, and Isaac, 14, stayed with their dad.
“They slowly stopped giving Carol the drugs that were keeping her in the induced coma, but every time she would begin to come round she would frantically act out, ripping at all the tubes she was hooked up to,” Dawn recalled.
After three attempts to bring her round, Carol finally came to three weeks later – when it became clear something was terribly wrong.
“I knew straight away that she was back to being a baby,” said Dawn, recalling how, after five weeks in intensive care, her daughter was transferred to the neurological ward, where she spent a further two months.
“She didn’t need round the clock care medically, but in terms of her mental state, she was like a child. She couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
“She would ask me, ‘Mummy, why am I in prison? What have I done wrong?’ It was heartbreaking.”
During her time in hospital, nurses had to help Carol to relearn basic tasks, such as brushing her teeth and showering.
Then, in May this year, Dawn made the decision to care for her daughter at home.
“It’s been really hard, but I couldn’t cope with leaving her in hospital any longer,” she explained.
“It’s like I’m watching my grown-up daughter grow up all over again.
“She can’t take her own medication, which she has a lot of to prevent seizures and control her blood pressure, or iron her own clothes, but she can feed herself and there’s one thing she really loves, which is walking.
“She could walk for miles and miles, no matter what the weather - it’s her only saviour. She was never even a big walker before - she was more of a party girl.
“She loved helping people put together a bash, she was so outgoing and bold.
“It’s such a far cry from the woman Carol had become. She always had to prove she could do whatever she wanted.
“Before the aneurysms she spent two-and-a-half years putting her heart and soul into her restaurant, which was getting glowing reviews.
“It’s hard to believe that now. It’s safe to say it didn’t last long without her - it’s closed shop now.”
Realising her own limitations, Dawn has also pushed for a mental health assessment for Carol, believing that specialist psychiatric support may help her to comprehend what has happened.
“The NHS agreed to pay for the assessment, but it’s not for another four weeks and time is of the essence,” she said.
So, in a bid to do all she can to help her daughter, Dawn has set up a GoFundMe page - asking for help raise £150,000 for her ongoing care.
While family and friends are also rallying round, organising a string of fundraising events to help.
Dawn, who is now a full-time carer for Carol, continued: “Even if the NHS decide on a treatment plan for Carol, it will take months on the waiting list before she sees someone and that just isn’t possible - it’s wasted time.
“The first year after a brain injury is crucial. That’s when the brain is recovering and reconnecting neurons and synapses.
“That’s why, in four weeks’ time, I want to be able to take the psychotherapist aside and tell them we have enough money to pay for weekly sessions privately - straight away.”
On top of the cost of ongoing psychotherapy, Dawn is also worried about the expense of looking after Carol at home without an income.
She said: “We can get help with benefits, but at the end of the day, we need to start getting an income back or we’ll lose Carol’s house. At the moment the lenders are very understanding but we won’t be able to afford the repayments if she doesn’t get better.
“It really has been the most harrowing year - especially for Carol’s sons.
“Now, when she has lucid moments when she’s not too tired, she says, ‘I can’t live like this - I want to be a mum to my boys.’
“I’m determined to do whatever I can do make that happen. Her boys just want their mum back and I want my daughter back.
“I’m hoping we can now make that happen through the kindness of strangers.”
To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-carol-be-a-mum-again