Northern Ireland

Co Derry woman's book reveals agony of locked-in-syndrome in bid to help others

Clodagh Dunlop at the launch of her new book 'A Return to Duty' in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Clodagh Dunlop at the launch of her new book 'A Return to Duty' in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell

FROM her darkest days, locked in her own body, to launching a book detailing her remarkable recovery, Clodagh Dunlop says she "always felt my journey would help others".

More than four years after the Co Derry police officer suffered a brainstem stroke, leaving her unable to communicate and move, she has defied the odds and made an extraordinary return to health.

Now able to walk, drive and having returned to work as a PSNI detective, the 40-year-old has went one step further and unveiled her book, A Return to Duty, which she hopes will inspire others.

"There were points in my journey that I thought I would not get back to, but in my head, I would rather fail than never try," she said.

The book reveals the agony and frustration she experienced in 2015 when she was left with locked-in syndrome, an extremely rare condition that causes total paralysis, apart form the muscles that regulate eye movement.

Trapped inside her body for three months, yet aware of everything around her, she was expected to be a prisoner in her own body forever or endure a lifetime of severe disability.

But for Ms Dunlop, that was not an option.

Today, while she does not have full use of her right arm and leg, she has defied the grim prognosis and went on to document her journey in her book, which she described as a "difficult yet cathartic experience".

"I always knew I wanted to write my story, but it has taken me time to feel ready to talk about some of the very personal aspects of it," she said.

"I want the world to know the reality of the struggle when you lose the ability to communicate.

"Locked-in-syndrome is a truly horrifying ordeal and I was convinced many times that I was going to die in hospital because I couldn't communicate the fact that I was overheating or in pain.

"It was only because my partner Adrian noticed I could blink that we were able to work out a way of communicating until I could learn to make a sound again.

"Writing the book made me laugh and cry as I relived the experience and I will be delighted if this book can help anyone who has a friend or family member going through a similar situation to understand what is happening."

Ms Dunlop said the proceeds of her book sales will fund advanced treatments in America to improve her mobility.

"I'm looking at specialist residential rehabilitation centres in the US costing several thousand pounds a week, where everything from diet, to splints, specialist massage of muscles and physio with state-of-the-art technology, would be tailored to my specific needs," she said.

"I've also investigated cutting-edge technology, which would also help promote muscle rehabilitation in my leg.

"That would help me walk with more stability while a specialist-hand system would allow me to open and close my right hand while strengthening the muscles.

"However, these devices cost over £10,000 to buy and several thousand pounds a year to maintain, alongside the cost of the intense physio I continue to need.

"I know I’ll never be 100 per cent back to full fitness, but I am determined to be the best version of me I can be."

And not one to shy away from a challenge, Ms Dunlop says she hopes to one day be able to run again.

"I was told I wouldn't move, I defied that. I was told I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, I defied that," she said.

"My burning desire is to improve my walking and my long-term goal is to run again.

"I don't fear failure so one day, maybe I will run."

A Return to Duty is available at and Waterstones.