Spanish charity mission for stroke victim Colette

Colette Woskalo with a mother and her two children who she helped in Spain with the charity Swap Tears for Smiles (s)
Colette Woskalo with a mother and her two children who she helped in Spain with the charity Swap Tears for Smiles (s)

A devastating stroke changed Colette Woskalo’s life in seconds.

A social worker who loved her job, Colette, who was 53 at the time, was a woman in her prime who worked out at the gym five times a week, followed a healhy diet and generally lived life to the full.

Colette Woskalo, a major stroke sufferer who is now helping to raise money for homeless families in Spain.

Colette Woskalo, a major stroke sufferer who is now helping to raise money for homeless families in Spain.

But one night she went to bed and awoke the next morning unable to move or speak.

“The last thing I remember about that night is reading my book and then hearing my name being called the next day to say I was late for work,” said Colette who lives in Burnley’s Ightenhill.

She had suffered a major stroke and spent the next several months in hospital fighting her way back to health. Robbed of her speech completely, the stroke also affected Colette’s memory and thought process and also her movement. It was like becoming a child and Colette had to slowly learn to do everything again.

She said: “I had a choice to either sit back or fight and I chose to fight.

“It was frustrating for me but my stroke specialist told me to just accept my limitations and that is what I have been forced to do.”

That was seven years ago and Colette now speaks in a form of broken English that makes many people think she has trouble understanding the language, especially considering her Polish surname. But she grew up in Nelson and is a former pupil of St John Fisher and Thomas More RC High School.

She has a trusty notebook filled with vital information including people’s names, addresses, dates and places she has to attend. One of those places is the Lancashire Women’s Centre in Nicholas Street, Burnley, which Colette says she would not have survived without. With no family or friends to support her, Colette turned to the centre that helps women with a range of issues, from mental health and emotional well being issues to training and employability, self help, advice and support.

“They saved my life here,” said Colette. “I cannot thank them enough for the support they have given me.”

The stroke robbed Colette of almost everything she held dear but thanks to the help she received at the women’s centre she has established some peace and contentment in her life.

“We don’t realise how lucky we are in the UK as everything we need is at our fingertips such as a health service, eyecare and benefits,” she said.

This hit home particularly when Colette heard about the little known charity Swap Tears For Smiles. Founded in 2013 by British couple Arthur and Marge Laws the charity is based in the Murcia region of Spain helping poverty stricken families.

Colette said: “Some of these families have literally nothing, not even a proper home. They sleep in make-shift tents and have plastic sheets to cover them.

“It is heartbreaking to see the conditions they live in, especially the children.”

Colette was so moved by the charity’s work she completed her own three hour sponsored walk around Clitheroe Castle and raised £400. And Colette saw for herself the joy the charity brings when she flew out to Spain.

“The smiles on the faces of those people when you take them something is absolutely wonderful,” said Colette.

“I am grateful to everyone who sponsored my walk and I now want to raise awareness of this charity because the work it does is incredible.”

Along with her charity work, Colette is an active member of Hurstwood Church where she helps to run the mother and toddler group and also serve tea after Sunday service.

And she shares her life with her constant companion, seven-year-old Fifi, a Bichon Frise who she brought from Murcia after her Spanish family could no longer care for her.

Colette said: “We go everywhere together, she is a loyal and faithful friend.

“I am lucky to have her and I now feel that my life is blessed.”