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Yarmouth student's battle against odds

PUBLISHED: 13:25 25 June 2010 | UPDATED: 18:06 30 June 2010

It's a special day for all art students when their final collection goes on show but Cheryl Roach and her mother Sharon have extra reason to glow with pride.

It's a special day for all art students when their final collection goes on show but Cheryl Roach and her mother Sharon have extra reason to glow with pride.

For less than eight months before she enrolled at Great Yarmouth College the former television model was on hospital life support suffering from a brain aneurysm - a ballooning of blood vessels - with doctors grimly predicting she had 48 hours to live.

Her journey back from a four-and-a-half week coma and eight hours of open brain surgery to her first post-operation smile and return home to her two children has been recorded in a photographic diary by her mother.

And yesterday, the final inspirational chapter was reached with Cheryl's own work going on show at the art students' end of year show in the Suffolk Road college.

It focuses on the human form. Her images having been created by covering her body in acrylic paint and laying on canvases in different positions.

Cheryl, 32, of Ives Way, Hopton, near Yarmouth, said she decided to take the foundation course in art and design last September because she needed a focus to help her recovery.

She enrolled at the same time as her life-long friend and neighbour, Christine Skelly, who suffers her own medical problems and has been on kidney dialysis three days a week for 12 years.

“We pushed each other and encouraged each other. Life is not about giving up,” said Cheryl, who worked as a model from the age of 17, appearing in television adverts, cinema trailers and newspaper photo shoots.

“Life is a challenge and I don't see the negative. I am always a positive person. I have to keep going for my daughter and son.”

Cheryl, who until her illness was working as a garden designer, said it was on January 29 last year - the day after her birthday - when her life changed so dramatically.

Collapsing while out shopping in Yarmouth, she was taken to Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital where staff prepared her mother for the worst.

“They told me she had 48 hours to live and asked me about organ donation.

“We did not know if she would make it,” said Sharon, of Sidney Close, Yarmouth.

After being transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, Cheryl's family kept a constant vigil at her bedside, her brother Stewart, a Yarmouth Town footballer, not leaving hospital for two-and-a-half weeks.

When she showed signs of improvements doctors decided to go ahead with surgery to drill into her skull to release pressure on her brain. Her mother recalled: “We did not know if she would survive or get through it without disabilities.

“One of the first signs in her recovery was in intensive care when we saw braids from her hair on the floor; she must have been pulling them in her sleep.”

It was nearly five weeks before she came round and when she was discharged she was in a wheelchair, with disturbed vision, problems with her memory - which she still suffers -- and numbness in her arms.

Her mother lived with her for two months to help her with her her children Ashleigh, 13, and Leo, six, who is autistic.

Cheryl said: “Everything was affected. I had to start again. We started making cards together as therapy and that led me thinking about doing art and taking a course.”

She had to return to hospital twice for a lumber puncture to relieve a build-up of fluid and in January, four months into her course, she underwent eight hours of open brain surgery at Addenbrooke's to repair the blood vessel.

Sharon said: “She was only out of college for three weeks and determined to get back and finish what she had started.”

Cheryl still suffers from dizzy spells and knows she may need a further brain operation. But she is looking forward to returning to college in September to start a foundation degree in commercial art and design.

She said: “I do struggle to remember stuff from college and that is the biggest challenge in coming back, but I am looking forward to starting the next challenge to keep me moving on.”

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