Woman who had a stroke at 31 is now an author and illustrator


Emma now has four books (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma Reed was left disabled down the right side of her body when she suffered from a stroke at just 31. 

She was practising pen control to regain some motor skills in the summer of 2019 when her mouse drawing sparked a whole new career.

Now, she works as a successful children’s author and illustrator.

Emma, who lives in Essex with her husband Mark and their two children, said: ‘Unfortunately, I’m right-handed, so I was sat on the floor just doodling to try and regain fine motor skills when I made a mistake while trying to draw a mouse in a flower pot.

‘I was using a blender marker pen and had just done something in blue and forgot to clean it, so when I drew the mouse’s cheeks, they came out blue.

‘So I thought, “As it’s sat in a plant pot I’ll have to make the blobs into blue flowers,” and things developed from there.

‘I could have thrown the bit of paper away but, instead, I thought, “The mouse needs friends,” so I drew a rabbit. Then I thought, “He needs a place to live.”‘


Emma turned her blue mistake into flowers (Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma turned her blue mistake into flowers (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Emma uses her left hand to help write with her right(Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma uses her left hand to help write with her right (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Naughty Morty's animal friends (Collect/PA Real Life)

Naughty Morty’s animal friends (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma soon created a story called Whimsical Woodland Way and set up a website for her own memories and to show her friends.

Lots of people told the mum-of-two she should turn these sketches into a book.

Emma was unsure at first but soon joined a children’s illustration group – a move that led to her first book being published in June 2020.


Emma Reed (Collect/PA Real Life)

She had her first stroke at 31 (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Emma with her family (Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma with her husband and children (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma’s health journey has not been easy – she had her first stroke at a children’s Halloween party in October 2015.

She said: ‘I thought “This is how I die,” and I was heartbroken that I didn’t get to say goodbye to my boys.’

Emma was taken to Basildon University Hospital in Essex and kept in for a week.

She was put on medication to thin her blood and maintain correct blood pressure, but medics warned there was a risk it could kill her, because it could cause bleeding and swelling on the brain.

Six weeks later she suffered a blockage leading to another small stroke. This left her with ataxia – a disorder that affects coordination, balance and speech.

Emma said: ‘One day because of the ataxia I just poured boiling water over my hand because my brain didn’t tell my right hand to stop pouring.

‘Even now, I still get constant pins and needles down the right side of my body 100% of the time.’


Emma has her first dialysis (Collect/PA Real Life)

Emmas having her first dialysis (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Emma comes out of surgery (Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma when she came out of surgery (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Emma had her last plasma exchange the day before her transplant (Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma had her last plasma exchange the day before her transplant (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)

Alongside her strokes, Emma’s kidney disease – which she was diagnosed with age five – took a turn for the worse. 

In March 2019, her dad Clive McGiffen was able to donate a kidney to her, following plasma exchange treatment – as he was not a blood match.

Despite all this going on, Emma hasn’t let it hold her back.

She now has three books on sale – Naughty Morty and the Red and Blue Sock, Elvis and Samuel’s Christmas Encounter, and Pyjama Fairies – with a fourth, Naughty Morty and the Boy in the Buttercup Coat, due out this year.


Emma's books for sale (Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma’s books for sale (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Naughty Morty book cover (Collect/PA Real Life)

The cover of Naughty Morty (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Naughty Morty stuck in a sock from the book (Collect/PA Real Life)

Her book (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)


Emma's illustration (Collect/PA Real Life)

Coming to life (Picture: Collect/PA Real Life)

Emma stresses that none of her achievements would be possible without her family’s support. 

Her experience has also taught her the importance of asking for help – something she’s included in her latest storyline.

She said: ‘My latest book is about a boy trying to build a den, who gets help from Naughty Morty and Rory. The message is about being able to ask for help.

‘I’ve been speaking with someone who works in Special Educational Needs and Difficulties and the book is being used with an autistic girl and by professionals.

‘It’s still quite a struggle for me to produce the books, as I have to sit on the floor with my legs out straight and my pad beyond my legs, with my right arm tucked in to prop myself on my right hip

‘I don’t have much control of the pen in my right hand and I get really bad pains in my hand, or get to a point where I can’t move my fingers properly, so I use my left hand to help.

‘But I love doing it and, hopefully, my story and books are an example of what you can achieve if you keep trying hard.’

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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