A woman who suffered a stroke aged 25 after developing a blood clot just two months after she started taking a combined contraceptive pill, has published a book of poetry warning of the dangers.
Theatre producer Holly McComish is now calling for tougher screening for women before they are given the pill.
London-based Holly collapsed during a business meeting in October 2021 just weeks after being prescribed the oral contraceptive Microgynon 30 over the telephone.
She was rushed to A&E by ambulance where doctors later found a blood clot had travelled to her brain via an undiagnosed hole in her heart.
She was told to stop taking the contraceptive pill immediately and placed on blood thinning medication. Later she underwent surgery to repair the hole in her heart and has now fully recovered.
It’s thought up to 25% of people have a similar undiagnosed heart issue without ever knowing about it.
Holly, now 26, has written a book of poetry focusing on women’s health issues including a trilogy based on her experience of having a stroke. The book, entitled If Tits Could Talk, has won praise from health charities such as The Pink Ribbon Foundation.
She said: “I had a phone consultation with my GP in August 2021 as they weren’t seeing patients face to face because of the pandemic.
“She explained the pill came with a small risk of depression but I was fine with that because I thought if I felt down I could stop taking it. Nothing was said about blood clots.
“But within a couple of weeks of taking it, I began experiencing nasty headaches. I thought maybe this was normal as my body was adjusting to new hormones.
“Then I was in a meeting at a theatre when I started to feel unwell. My vision started blurring and I couldn’t get my words out.
“Someone noticed half of my face had dropped and they called for an ambulance and helped me to the floor.
“I could feel a woman shaking me, saying my name but I wasn’t able to respond. It was like being paralysed. As a generally fit person, I could not believe this was happening and genuinely did wonder whether I was passing away.
“I was conscious in the back of the ambulance and remember thinking, ‘this can’t be my life.’ I was in shock, frightened and confused.”
She was later referred to the London Neurological Hospital, which confirmed the next day that she had suffered a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), also known as a “mini-stroke.”
“I immediately burst into tears. It felt like a bad dream like this couldn’t really be happening to me. It was very hard to hear at 25. I felt like my body had failed me, and let me down. I felt scared, incredibly anxious and numb.”
The doctors said she had to come off the pill immediately and while they couldn’t be 100% sure they said that blood clots which are known to cause strokes can be a side effect of taking the pill.
“When they told me I’d had a stroke they said the pill can cause blood clots but it’s very rare so you’ve just been unlucky. It made me feel really angry.”
Last August Holly underwent surgery at St Bartholomew’s Hospital where surgeon Dr Ajay Jain was able to repair the hole in her heart. Dr Jain has said he is happy to comment on the case via St Barts press office (contact details below).
Holly said: “I am incredibly grateful to Dr Jain and to all the medical staff who helped me on the path to recovery.”
She launched her book, If Tits Could Talk, at a special event at the Royal Court Theatre last week. It highlights issues around women’s health and while it offers a humorous perspective Holly believes real change is needed.
She said: “Contraception is taken so recklessly. I was given it over the phone, you can even just walk into a pharmacist and buy it yourself. This attitude of ‘just give the pill a try and see how you get on’ needs to stop. Contraception needs more research and more tests need to be run before women are prescribed it.”
Holly’s poetry has been championed by well-known poet Rupi Kaur who chose her to perform one of her poems on her Instagram page, where she has 4.5m followers.
Holly said: “I started writing poetry while at Brunel University. I was very lucky to be taught by Benjamin Zephaniah.”
Lisa Allen, from the cancer charity Pink Ribbon Foundation, said: “Holly’s humour and tongue-in-cheek way of viewing female themes, appeals to many and enables Holly to get important messages across, such as the need to attend smear tests, the use of contraception and the need to be breast aware.”
Follow Holly on Instagram @holly_mccomish.