PREPARING for a new home is always stressful - so when Jason Read began experiencing headaches, his wife Lisa put the symptoms down to the pressure of their impending house move.
But then Jason collapsed at work, leaving Lisa surprised to find him resting on the sofa when she arrived back at 3pm from a walk with their three young children.
“Jason explained that he’d had a shooting pain all down one side of his body and had then collapsed,” said Lisa.
“He’d had a splitting headache, worse than any he’d had before, plus he’d lost a lot of the peripheral vision on his right-hand side.
“His boss had found him and suggested he needed to go to hospital - but ever the hard-working husband, he’d asked to be taken home instead.”
However, after days without improvement Jason was persuaded to attend the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, where a CT scan showed up a patch on his brain.
“The doctors told him ‘We think you may have a brain tumour,” Lisa said.
“They told him to go home, pack a bag, and that a bed would be waiting for him at the Royal Hallamshire.”
Jason was shocked by the news, saying he ‘thought his world had just ended’.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened in my life,” he added.
But following more scans, it became apparent that Jason had in fact suffered a stroke at the age of just 34, brought on by a blood clot in his brain.
The fit and healthy sports enthusiast didn’t consider himself a typical stroke candidate, cycling to and from work every day, playing badminton and enjoying a game of football once a week.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
“On the one hand I was obviously glad it wasn’t a tumour, but on the other it was devastating. How can someone young, fit and healthy have a stroke?”
Jason, from Woodseats in Sheffield, was one of the estimated 40,000 people under retirement age who are affected by strokes in the UK every year.
Strokes are often thought only to affect older people - but although the effects are the same in different age groups, younger adults are more likely to have different concerns about their family, finances and employment.
Lisa, who works as a life coach and trainer, continued: “Not only did I have to face the fact that I may lose the love of my life, but I also had to think about how I might cope financially. My coaching practice was only very small at the time, and I also worked part-time as a teaching assistant.
“Plus, we were about to buy a much larger house and quadruple our mortgage, and of course there was still all the packing to do and three children to consider.”
The blood clot had dispersed by the time Jason was hospitalised, but he still needed to spend a week in hospital as he began a slow recovery.
“It took him at least six months to get any sort of energy back,” said Lisa. “He could still walk and talk, but he was just very weak and a bit dazed. At one stage he nearly stepped out in front of a car.”
During this time he was supported by the charity Different Strokes, which helps younger people with the condition by providing advice and exercise classes for rehabilitation.
“I couldn’t understand what had happened to me and I found comfort in connecting with others who had had the same, or in many cases much worse, happen to them,” Jason said. He went on to raise more than £500 for the good cause through holding a quiz night, while Lisa collected over £200 by running an eight-mile race.
The cause of the stroke remained a mystery until, months later, Jason was found to have a previously undiagnosed hole in his heart.
“Quite a few people have holes in their heart and don’t realise,” said Lisa.
“He had no awareness of it. The hole in his heart probably contributed to his blood clot.”
Jason, now 40, has made an almost full recovery, and soon returned to his job as a senior case worker for Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield.
He needs to take blood-thinning medication daily, as well as statins to keep his cholesterol levels low.
“His peripheral vision hasn’t returned so that means he can’t drive, but he is a lot more positive now,” said Lisa.
“It’s definitely changed his outlook on life. He often says to me ‘I feel so very rich’ - he doesn’t mean in monetary terms, he just feels so grateful for everything he has.”
Single largest cause of disability in UK
Strokes are the single largest cause of disability in the UK. Every year around 150,000 people suffer a stroke, with around a third occurring in people below retirement age.
All the causes of strokes in older adults can also happen in younger people, but medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, weakened arteries and ethnic background are considered risk factors for those under 65.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking and drug use can raise the chances of a stroke.
In about a third of cases involving younger people, a cause cannot be identified.
The effects of a stroke can range from paralysis or weakness down one side of the body, communication difficulties and problems with learning, concentration and memory.
Visit www.stroke.org.uk or www.differentstrokes.co.uk for more information and support.