Niki Lakerink has a brain aneurysm. It’s affecting her memory and her thought processes, and there’s a chance of it rupturing and killing her. She needs surgery within a matter of weeks.
But there’s one thing that’s causing the Geelong single mum more stress than anything else right now. She has no one to help her take care of her nine-year-old daughter during the months of recovery after the operation.
Lakerink’s daughter is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD.
“She goes to mainstream school but she has mega-meltdowns every day,” Lakerink tells Mamamia. “She’s got significant behavioural issues. She’s got the comprehension of a four-year-old when she’s nine. I have to put my arm in front of her when she crosses the road, still.
“She has a sleep disorder. She sleeps in two-hour cycles, meaning she wakes up in the night multiple times and can’t self-soothe and ends up in anxiety and meltdowns, so she sleeps with me so I can soothe her and get her back to sleep.”
She says it’s taken her years to figure out her daughter’s differences.
“I’ve got the benefit of being on the spectrum myself so I can see where some of it comes from.”
Lakerink, an artist and designer, has been living with the aneurysm for almost four years.
“I woke up like I’d had a stroke,” she remembers. “My face was paralysed and I was having tremors and seizures. I was in tremendous pain. I went to the ER and they sent me home saying it was migraines.”
Lakerink also has multiple sclerosis, and the aneurysm was eventually found when she had an MRI to check if she had any new lesions on her brain. She’s been told she needs to have surgery to clip the aneurysm, to reduce the risk of it rupturing.
“I really worry if I have a seizure it might rupture, and if ruptures, I think 33 per cent of people die,” she says. “A lot of people who do survive have brain injury.”
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On a daily basis, she’s suffering headaches, fatigue, dizziness and memory loss.
“It is terrifying,” she says. “You value your brain. You think, ‘I used to be this intelligent person and now I repeat myself and I forget how I get places.’
“I’ve started losing blocks of memory, like I lost 10 minutes of time the other day. I can’t remember any of it.”
She says her daughter can’t understand why she’s so tired and forgetful and can’t walk properly.
“Sometimes she says some pretty mean things about me being stupid and useless. It’s frustrating for her.”
Lakerink was meant to have the brain surgery last year, but due to her mother’s death, she put it off. Now she’s due to have it sometime this month.