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Members of Swale Stroke Group who suffered strokes at a young age speak about their experiences

By Lewis Dyson

When you think of someone who has had a stroke, you probably picture someone elderly.

This preconception is something younger victims find themselves up against on a daily basis.

The four sufferers we spoke to said they get judgemental looks when they park in disabled spaces – even when they display their blue badge – because of their age. Or sometimes people think they’re drunk as they walk down the street because they don’t realise they have mobility problems.

Annette Webb

Annette Webb

Annette Webb, of Keycol Hill, Sittingbourne, was only 25 when she had a stroke.

She had just come out the shower and was on the bed when she felt pains, “like someone putting a really sharp needle in my head”.

When she looked in the mirror she saw her face had fallen on one side.

The 31-year-old said: “Obviously, I didn’t want to believe it at the time.

“I lost my speech. My right side basically went. It’s like being a toddler – learning how to walk, how to talk, how to write all over again.”

Richard Peters

Richard Peters

Richard Peters, of Jefferson Road, Sheerness, recalls a similar feeling – “a knife in the back of my head”– when he had a stroke at the age of 49 two years ago.

"It’s the loneliest place I’ve ever been” - Julie O'Ryan, stroke victim

After waking up he remembers “talking gibberish” to his wife before his mother-in-law, a volunteer for St John Ambulance, recognised the symptoms and called 999.

The 51-year-old said: “At first I thought it was quite funny. It was like being drunk. But then I realised how serious it was when I couldn’t communicate.

“It was really frightening.”

Julie O’Ryan, who was 47 when she had a stroke, said: “For me the hardest bit is you think everything is all right but you can’t communicate. It’s the loneliest place I’ve ever been.”

Julie, now 56, added: “When my mum came to see me in hospital she was obviously very worried. I wanted to laugh with her to show it would be all right but I couldn’t talk. You can’t. It’s like you are looking out on someone else.”

April Witheridge, 47, of Minster Road, Minster, had a stroke five years ago. “I remember having a bad headache for about a week beforehand but I only noticed something was wrong when I met up with a friend and started repeating myself and I couldn’t get my words out properly.”

Julie O'Ryan

Julie O'Ryan

When she went to her job as a senior payroll administrator, she could not remember a crucial password to get into her company’s computer system.

“As soon as someone comes to see me I have to write things down or else I’ll forget it,” she said, adding she will often get little things mixed up like the sexes of her pet birds.

Despite the setback life has dealt them, they all push themselves to make the most of every single day.

Miss O’Ryan, of Wadham Place, Sittingbourne, said: “Your confidence goes. First of all my attitude was I can beat this – but the reality is you’ll never be the same again.

“It’s easy to stay indoors and not see anyone but you have to keep going.”

April Witheridge

April Witheridge

Mrs Webb said: “I have two young children and my goal is I have to wake up and do this for them.

“My son was four when it happened. My family kept him in the loop and he’s always been aware there’s something wrong. For a good couple of years he was my carer.”

“It’s an ongoing thing,” she added. “How I am now compared to how I was before. It’s like a massive difference. Your whole life changes.”

Mr Peters said: “I didn’t want to get out of bed. You end up very depressed, very tearful and anxious. Sometimes it’s hard to keep going.

“You’ve got to keep picking yourself up. You don’t want your stroke to get the better of you.”

The Stroke Association is raising awareness of strokes in the young

The Stroke Association is raising awareness of strokes in the young

All four of the young sufferers belong to Swale Stroke Group and say being around other people who have been through the same experience helps.

Mrs Webb said at first she felt depressed going to a different support group and being the only one under 60. But since joining the local group she has met other people closer to her age.

They organise various outings and sessions, including photography and computer classes and even shooting.

The organisation meets on the second and last Thursday of every month, from 10.30am to 12.30pm at the Hope Street Centre, Hope Street, Sheerness.

Anyone who would like to support the group or is interested in joining can call Stewart Kitching on 01795 437569 or email piper1923@talktalk.net

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