Stroke victim Richard's taking it all in his stride
Dad (34) doing Step Out walk to highlight the condition
A man left unable to walk or talk after a devastating stroke is to take part in the annual sponsored walk where he took his first steps last year.
Richard Shields (34), a father of three, still relies heavily on a wheelchair to get about but will take part in the Step Out for Stroke event in Antrim this weekend.
It is organised by the Stroke Association to coincide with its Make May Purple campaign to raise awareness of the condition.
Richard, from Antrim, first fell ill in August 2014.
His wife Hazel explained: "He was at home and he was hoovering.
"We used to keep a bird and its feathers would get everywhere so Richard was on the ground with his arm up the radiator trying to get at the feathers.
"I noticed the hoover was on but he wasn't moving so I went over and gave him a nudge and asked him what he was doing."
It turned out that Richard was having a seizure so he was rushed to the nearby Antrim Area Hospital.
Doctors carried out a number of tests but were unable to pinpoint the cause of the seizure so Richard was sent home.
Two weeks later, he was visiting his mum and had fallen asleep in a chair in the living room.
When he woke, he was displaying all the classic signs of stroke.
Hazel continued: "His face had fallen at one side, his speech was slurred, he couldn't hold his arms above his head.
"We thought it was a stroke straight away so we phoned for an ambulance.
"The paramedics actually rang ahead to say they were bringing in someone with a suspected stroke.
"It was so scary, they took him into resus (resuscitation) and you don't know what is going on while they did all the tests.
"Richard had to be transferred to the Royal before they finally diagnosed him with a stroke."
As is the case with all stroke patients, doctors were unable to say how well Richard would recover and so he began physiotherapy and speech therapy to help him learn to walk and talk again. He was finally able to stand and take some steps at last year's Step Out for Stroke event.
"He was so determined to do it," said Hazel.
"He uses a zimmer frame to get round the house and he still uses his wheelchair when he is out because he is so unsteady on his feet but he managed to take some steps at the sponsored walk."
However, the family were dealt a further blow in July last year when Richard suffered a second stroke.
Fortunately on this occasion, Richard was treated with the clot-busting drug, thrombolysis, which minimised the damage to his brain. Hazel added: "He still suffers from double vision and aphasia, sometimes he can't physically say the word and sometimes he just can't find the word he wants to say.
"It's horrendous for someone so young to have a stroke. He hasn't been able to work. He was a welder fabricator which is a very physical job.
"I haven't been able to work either as I am his carer. The children have found it all a bit confusing, they're nine, seven and five, and they don't really understand the concept that he won't fully recover."
This year's Step Out for Stroke event starts at 2pm on Sunday at Antrim Castle Gardens.
To sponsor Richard log on to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Hazel-Shields1.