The unlikely nurse: From brick maker to RN

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(CNN)Registered nurse John McElroy is living his dream — one made of hospital scrubs, overnight shifts and patients facing difficult recoveries.

This husband and father of three works in a rehabilitation ward at St. Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospital in St. Helens, England.
“When I was younger I always wanted to be a nurse,” he tells CNN.
Yet, McElroy’s journey into medicine was unusual — it didn’t begin until his 44th birthday.
“I worked in a local brick factory for about twenty-five years,” he recalls.
It was a physically demanding job,” he says. “Life in the factory was quite tough.”
It was about to get a lot tougher.

Not just a headache

In March of 2007, McElroy suffered what he thought was a mild headache.
He was out for drinks with friends at a local pub when a dizzy spell hit. He stumbled home, fell asleep and woke the next morning with even worse dizziness.
“The world was spinning like 500 miles an hour,” he recalls. “It was as if something inside my head had just exploded.”
McElroy’s daughter and wife called an ambulance and rushed him to the hospital. After five days of testing, scans revealed the problem — a stroke.
He lost sight in his right eye and words persistently failed him.
“I was speaking but the words — it was just jibberish. That was scary,” he says.
But the worst part, McElroy recalls, was the short temper he suddenly possessed. Doctors had warned that his stroke could cause personality changes. His wife was often on the receiving end of the new “heightened agitation.”
“I knew that I was different and it was like, ‘Why am I behaving like this?’ ” he explains.
His wife’s support during the darkest moments following the stroke played a vital role in his recovery and further deepened the couple’s love, he says.
“Without my wife’s support, I probably would have gone into a downward spiral.”
With lingering dizziness, balance and coordination issues, McElroy soon lost his job. His confidence was shattered.
“Although my wife was working we were struggling financially,” he says. “I was thinking I’m not ready for the scrapheap. I am too young.”

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