Belfast Telegraph

Health Minister Jim Wells tells of setbacks following his wife's two strokes

By Ivan Little

Health Minister Jim Wells has revealed his seriously ill wife Grace has faced "huge complications" as she fights to recover from two strokes.

And the DUP politician has thanked the hundreds of people across Northern Ireland who are praying for his 56-year-old wife.

Mr Wells, who spends hours by his wife's bedside, said there had been good days and bad ones.

He said that after a number of encouraging days over the last week or so, Mrs Wells had a setback 48 hours ago.

Speaking yesterday just before visiting his wife in hospital, Mr Wells said: "Unfortunately Thursday wasn't a great day. We still have this problem with Grace's breathing and she has had a step backwards."

The south Down MLA, who grew up on his family's farm in Moira, confirmed that his wife had not had another stroke.

Mrs Wells suffered her first stroke six weeks ago last Tuesday and had been making a steady recovery when she had another stroke which had even more of an impact than the original one.

Mr Wells (57) maintained a round-the-clock vigil for six days and nights at his wife's bedside in the acute stroke unit.

He is still a constant visitor along with his three children and other family members who ensure that Mrs Wells is never alone.

"I spend most of my life working or in the hospital," he said.

Mr Wells said his wife's recovery had been a very slow one and he added: "There have been huge complications."

Mr Wells said he had been deeply touched and comforted by all the prayers offered for his wife and by the massive number of messages and letters the family had received.

"We have had lot and lots of support. I don't think we could have got through this without it," added Mr Wells who has already spoken of how politicians from all sides at Stormont have swamped him with messages of encouragement, including 120 texts in one night. The day before his wife fell ill, Mr Wells had been talking to politicians about the importance of new facilities to help stroke patients across Northern Ireland.

And then his daughter rang him to say that her mother had suffered a stroke.

Mr Wells said that his family's experiences with the NHS have been a "real eye-opener" and he paid tribute to the dedication and professionalism of hospital staff from all over the world who had been caring for his wife.

He said he had never been in an intensive care unit before and was highly impressed by the selflessness and expertise of the nurses and consultants who looked after patients with total commitment.

Mr Wells said it was both frightening and shocking for him to see an ICU for the first time.

He said that he'd been called four times to the "bad news room" in hospital where he was warned "sensitively and empathetically" about what outcomes his wife could face.

Yesterday Mr Wells said he accepted that his wife's recovery could take a long time.

"It could be months and months, unfortunately," the minister added.

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