Leeds couple: Our love was a life-saver

Julie Elliott with her fiancee James Campbell

Julie Elliott with her fiancee James Campbell

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One couple’s dreams of marriage and starting a family were put on hold after one of them suffered a stroke. Neil Hudson heard their amazing story

For most couples in their 30s, life is dominated by finding a house, getting married and having children and that was certainly true for Julie Elliott and James Campbell.

Until fate dealt them a cruel blow.

Julie, then just 32, suffered a stroke.

It came just weeks before the couple were due to marry, meaning the planned ceremony had to be cancelled.

In fact, it stopped them in their tracks as Julie was forced to undergo a life-saving operation.

But three and a half years after the devastating moment which changed both their lives, the couple have found a new depth to their love and Julie is more determined than ever to make her dreams come true.

It was the couple’s love for one another which proved so crucial in helping both of them cope with events which were, for the most part, beyond their control.

Nearly four years on from the moment which changed everything, the couple have a newfound love for one another and a new take on what is important in life.

It was a typical day in 2008 when Julie’s life changed irrevocably. She had been at a flyball tournament – an event in which specially trained dogs compete against each other in a relay race – when fate struck.

“The dogs race down the course to collect a ball and then bring it back, sometimes you have to be quite vocal with the dogs to encourage them – as I shouted, I suddenly felt something snap inside my head. It felt odd for a few minutes but I didn’t think anything much about it at the time. Half an hour later, however, I started to feel funny, I got up to walk but my legs just gave way.”

Unbeknown to her, Julie had suffered a stroke, or in medical terminology, a brain haemorrhage, which occurs when a blood vessel or artery in or around the brain bursts.

Luckily for Julie, she was helped to a car by friends and rushed to hospital and the potentially deadly stroke diagnosed.

Several weeks later and after numerous scans, a cerebral aneurysm and an arteriovenous malformation were found.

An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of an artery, which creates a weak point, meaning that under pressure, it can burst. An arteriovenous malformation is a mass of abnormal blood vessels which aren’t capable of carrying high pressure blood flow. Should either of these rupture, what is technically known as a stroke will occur. This can then lead to loss of movement, paralysis and even death.

Following a nine-hour operation to clip the aneurysm, Julie woke up to find half her head shaved and 57 staples in her scalp.

She recalled: “Before the operation, the doctor told me, ‘It’s like playing poker, except I can see the cards you’re holding’.”

Surgeons were able to repair the artery in Julie’s head but the initial stroke has left her without the use of her left arm.

Julie remembers being told by one nurse she would never walk in high heels again due to the weakness in her left leg.

Moment

For Julie, the shocking judgement became a defining moment.

She said: “It took me a while to acknowledge I’d had a stroke, I lost all my independence and not being able to do simple things like tie a shoelace or open a tin of beans.

“When the nurse told me I would never walk in heels again, I just thought straight away, I am going to prove you wrong and that is what I am working towards. I love high heels and I have lots of pairs, so being told I would never do it again wasn’t something I was prepared to accept.”

The stroke happened just three weeks before Julie and James were due to marry.

James recalled the moment he received news Julie had been rushed to hospital.

“I was at home, I was just about to go out and spend a ridiculous amount of money on alcohol for the wedding, I got a phone call telling me not to worry but that Julie was being taken to hospital in Doncaster. They didn’t tell me anything until I got there and they took me into the relative’s rooms. It was like something off Casualty. You know it’s not good when they do that.”

That both Julie and James’s lives changed on that day is undeniable but if one good thing came out of the situation, it was that the bond between them became even stronger.

James said: “Before Julie’s stroke I was quite materialistic, I loved my cars and gadgets and I still do – that’s not at the forefront of my mind any more.

“You look at what’s important in life. We tend not to worry about things which before would have bothered us – I used to be very focused on work but now it’s a case of, so long as the bills get paid, we’re happy.

“When it happened, we were in the process of getting married, moving house and thinking of starting a family, all that went on hold.

“Julie’s life changed dramatically, I suddenly had to do everything for her, washing her hair, dressing her, helping her get about, I basically took two years off work.

“It brought us much closer together. It gave us a new focus on life.”

The couple have received support from two organisations inparticular –The Stroke Association (www.stroke.org.uk) and Different Strokes (www.differentstrokes.co.uk).

For Julie, however, walking in high heels again is not her only ambition – she has even grander designs.

“We have two whippets, Brooke and Murphy and I recently set up my own flyball club based at Rawdon Old Boys Football Club, behind the Emmott Arms in Rawdon. We train every Sunday at 2pm, weather permitting. We have a Facebook page under CalverleyChasers.”

She added: “We still want to get married, but the one thing I really want is children, it’s something I’m very passionate about, although there is obviously now an inherit risk that I could suffer another stroke due to the increased blood flow and pressure that a pregnancy causes. But it’s something we are looking into with my doctors at the moment.”

PIC: Simon Hulme

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