Belfast Telegraph

Gloria Hunniford reveals husband's terrifying stroke experience

By Lisa Smyth

Gloria Hunniford has revealed for the first time her terror after her husband suffered a stroke four years ago.

The television personality was minutes from leaving for work when her second husband, Stephen Way, fell ill.

This remarkable twist of fate meant that Stephen received life-saving clot busting treatment, which restricted the damage to his brain.

The Loose Women panellist is best known for her work to raise awareness of breast cancer following the death of her daughter, Caron Keating, who lost her seven-year battle with the disease in 2004 when she was just 41.

However, she has now opened up about the devastating effects of stroke and its impact on her family as she calls for improved access to specialist stroke services in Northern Ireland.

"Stephen had a small stroke about three or four years ago when he was 71 or 72," she said.

"I was getting ready to go to The One Show and was upstairs in the bedroom talking to the producer on the phone and Stephen sort of stumbled into the room.

"I said to the producer that I had to ring him back as I thought Stephen may have fallen.

"He said something about the garden to me, he told me there was something the matter with his left arm and said it was like cotton wool and he had no control over it.

"I knew then - I had experience of stroke - so I told him maybe he had maybe done too much in the garden and said he should lie down.

"I went next door and rang the GP who told me to get him to hospital immediately.

"Luckily for us, the guy driving me to work was outside the house so we got Stephen into the car and we were at the hospital within 10 minutes.

"There was a wonderful dedicated stroke unit there that saw him within seconds and that was all crucial."

Stephen was treated with thrombolysis, a drug that breaks down clots and reduces the damage when someone suffers a thrombotic stroke - where a blood clot forms in one of the arteries in the brain.

For most people, thrombolysis needs to be given within four and half hours of stroke symptoms starting in order to be effective. In Gloria's case, she was familiar with the symptoms of stroke as her own father had suffered a number during his lifetime.

"Dad suffered a bad stroke and then had a few more but recovered well, although it was a stroke that took him in the end," she said. "With the first one I think he was about 59 or 60 and I was living and working in Belfast at the time and I got a call to say dad was in hospital.

"I just remember the doctor saying he had a very deep bleed and we just didn't know how things were going to work out.

"We didn't know if he would recover physically or mentally.

"When I went in and saw him it was such a shock, it was my first experience of seeing stroke.

"Stroke is deeply debilitating and I was so deeply affected by that.

"He didn't seem to be able to speak properly, wasn't able to move properly but nevertheless his fighting spirit was there.

"I remember very clearly that he wouldn't let us feed him and even if the food spilled he would push us away and tell us he was going to do it himself."

As a result of the original stroke, her father had problems with his speech and his personality also changed.

"He would get irritated very quickly, say for example if the dinner wasn't on the table at six o'clock he would want to know why," she said.

"He always wanted to prove that physically he hadn't been affected. When I went to see him he would lift me up in the air and ask me how I was. At the time I would get irritated but I know now that he was trying to tell us he was still strong.

"He had a good life but when he was 70 he had another bad stroke. He went to bed and when mum woke up he was gone."

The Portadown-born television personality has joined forces with the Stroke Association in Northern Ireland as it works to improve services for stroke patients here.

More than 4,000 people have strokes in Northern Ireland every year but the charity said survivors are frequently left without the care and support they need to recover.

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