JULIE Foster suffered three strokes before the age of 30.
The third, and most severe, left her unable to talk, walk or even eat for several months and needing round-the-clock care.
But losing her day-to-day abilities wasn’t the hardest part of the experience, the now-37-year-old said.
Instead, it was that her husband Stephen had to make the heartbreaking decision to terminate her pregnancy.
Julie was almost 22 weeks along at the time, and couldn’t wait to welcome her fourth baby into the world.
However, doctors warned her family that continuing with the pregnancy would risk her life.
Julie, from Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, said: “It was devastating. I couldn’t say a word.
“I kind of knew what was going on but I couldn’t talk.
“I was crying all the time but I couldn’t express myself.
“I knew how I was feeling but the words just weren’t there.”
Stephen, 40, added: “I had to make the decision whether to continue with the pregnancy or terminate it.
“The doctors advised that with the way she was at the time, she might not make it.
“It was a horrible, horrible situation but it had to be done.
“It was a case of, save Julie’s life and have her there for our three other children, or potentially lose her and our kids not have their mum.
“So she had to give birth to a stillborn baby at 22 weeks while not being able to talk.”
Hospital staff urged the couple not to meet the tot as it would likely be too difficult for them to process.
But Stephen decided Julie would want to spend a few hours with her son before saying goodbye.
They named him Lucas and made a memory box full of photos, which they still look at today.
“I knew my wife would want to see and name him, so again, I had to decide,” Stephen said.
“It’s still hard on the anniversary, but we get on, and our children know all about their brother.”
I knew how I was feeling but the words just weren’t there.
Julie had her first stroke while pregnant with her daughter Grace, now 13, but put her headache and going blind in one eye down to a bad migraine.
It wasn’t until March 2013 when she had a second that doctors revealed what had happened years earlier.
The former teacher had been watching TV at home when she noticed she couldn’t feel her left leg.
She and Stephen thought it was probably a trapped nerve, but a CT scan at Sunderland Royal Hospital revealed she had suffered a minor stroke, and another years earlier.
“I didn’t even know what a stroke was,” Julie said.
She underwent a treatment known as thrombolysis – a drug which dissolves blood clots and restores flow to the brain.
And while she experienced some memory problems, her son Oliver, now nine, was born healthy in November and she recovered.
However, two years later she fell pregnant again and a similar series of events unfolded.
Julie was doing some housework when she started to feel unwell – and Stephen heard a sudden bang.
Their son Aaron, then seven, rushed upstairs and found his mum on the landing.
“I thought I’d told him to go and get his dad, but he said it was just a load of jumbled words and he didn’t know what I was talking about,” Julie said.
“He ran downstairs shouting, ‘There’s something wrong with mum’.”
Stephen immediately recognised the symptoms and she was raced to hospital in an ambulance.
He said: “You could see her face had just completely drooped down her right-hand side.
“I knew straight away she’d had another stroke.”
Julie added: “Even though I was out of it, I kept asking, ‘Where’s Grace?’ because she had been at a friend’s house that day so I knew she wasn’t at home.
“After that, I couldn’t talk for six days. That was the last thing I said for almost a week.”
‘FIGHTING EVERY DAY’
After receiving the same thrombolysis treatment, Julie was taken to the maternity ward where she and Stephen grieved for Lucas.
She then spent two months on the stroke ward re-learning how to move, eat and speak.
Julie was suffering with aphasia – a disorder that affects how you communicate.
By Christmas, she was allowed to leave for short periods to see her children. And on January 9 she returned home for good.
Since then, speech and language therapists have helped her regain her ability to talk, while physiotherapists have got her walking again.
She has made tremendous progress, but sadly Julie still struggles with some aspects of aphasia and her recovery.
“I still can’t read and write properly,” Julie, who runs a volunteer stroke group, said.
“I have to read children’s books now. I used to love reading but I can’t go back to enjoying what I did before because it’s such a struggle.
“I also lose my temper more easily now, but I’ve just learned to adapt and keep fighting every day.
“I’m currently focusing more on things like learning how to do up my own coat and tie my shoelaces.
“I also still find the months of the year hard, I don’t know what order they go in, and dealing with money is difficult.”
Stephen added: “Julie has done so well with her recovery.
“She’s gone from not being able to say one word to having full conversations.
“This was the most dramatic experience of our lives.”
Julie appears in a new documentary by the Stroke Association.
When the Words Away Went, available to stream on Channel 4, tells the stories of people with aphasia, which impacts a third of the 1.3 million stroke survivors living in the UK.
What is a stroke and aphasia?
MORE than 100,000 people suffer a stroke every year in the UK.
It is a life-threatening medical condition that claims the lives of over 38,000 people annually.
The main symptoms can be remembered with the word FAST:
- Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped
- Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm
- Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake
- Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms
Strokes are caused when the supply of blood to the brain is restricted or stopped and cells begin to die.
Certain conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, irregular heart beats and diabetes, increase the risk of having one.
Strokes are usually treated with medicine, but people are often left with long-term problems so recovery can take some time.
For example, many people experience aphasia – difficulty with language or speech, usually caused by damage to the left side of the brain.
Sufferers will often have trouble with reading, listening, speaking, writing or typing.
Speech and language therapy is the main type of treatment.
Strokes associated with pregnancy are rare, but pregnancy and childbirth do increase your risk.
Source: NHS and the Stroke Association