By Gareth Shoulder @garethshoulder

An INSPIRATIONAL stroke survivor is using her new-found voice to advocate for disability rights

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Videographer / director: Samuel Russell
Producer: Gareth Shoulder, James Thorne
Editor: Thom Johnson

Courtney Gabrus, 24, from East Norwich, New York was born with a rare defect in the LMNA gene, a form of muscular dystrophy that is thought to affect one in a million people.

The uncommon muscle weakening condition meant by the time Courtney had reached 16 years old, she could no longer stand or walk without the use of an aid.

On 19 December 2016, at the age of 22, she had a stroke that changed her life forever. It paralysed the whole right side of her body and she lost her ability to speak.

Courtney told BTV: “I went to bed on the Friday and I was like, ‘Oh my god, Mom, I’m having a heart attack, like I can't feel my arm’.

“We went to the hospital, but I wanted to leave. I'm so stubborn I'm like, ‘No, I want to go home’. My mom is like, ‘No Courtney, you have to stay just be patient’.

“I woke up three days later with no voice, no arms, nothing in my head.

“And I couldn't speak, I saw my friends all surrounding me and they looked so confused, I was confused.”

Losing the ability to speak was a huge deal for Courtney, who describes her voice as her weapon.

Courtney admits after suffering her stroke she felt isolated and unsure what would happen next in her life.

She found solace online, reaching out to bloggers with disabilities to learn about their experiences and how they have adapted their daily lives.

She said, “When the stroke came, I was so lonely because no one knew what would happen.

“I reached out to the internet and just kind of found disabled bloggers.

“It was interesting to see people that don't necessarily have my gene defect but muscular dystrophy and where they're at.”

After the stroke, friends and family provided help and support by teaching Courtney how to speak again. She attributes a lot of her recovery to her best friend Jamie.

Courtney explained: “Ever since the stroke, I've been more grateful than anything about my friends and my family.

“They stood by me when I was alone in my head.

“Jamie and my mom really taught me to not be worried and just go out and enjoy the present and enjoy whatever you have.”

Courtney met Jamie Levy, 22, in tenth grade of high school at baking class aged 16 where they formed an instant bond.

Together they have begun a start-up promoting advocacy for disability welfare called MEEP.

MEEP stands for Mindful Empathic Experiences, Please – with this new venture they aim to challenge the stigma existing around mental health issues.

Jamie told BTV: “Courtney after her stroke was just my rock, she's always been my rock. But especially after the stroke, I found a new inspiration source from her.

“She is a bad ass because she has overcome life's hardest challenges.

“I know she has healed me; I know she has the power to heal so many people.”