When the reassuring text message telling Ian Thomas that his wife had safely arrived at her mother’s home in Doncaster never arrived, it became clear something was not quite right.
Ian, 55, came home to Kirkstall from work on January 2 and was confronted by his youngest son. His wife Debbie had been involved in an accident on the drive from Leeds.
Ian rushed to his car and followed the route his wife would normally take, before arriving at a roadblock flanked by police at the Elland Road slip road leading to the M621 motorway.
Debbie, a 53-year-old school catering assistant, had suffered a life-threatening bleed on the brain while driving and, slumped at the wheel, spun into a barrier dangerously close to traffic. Nobody else was hurt.
With his wife having already been rushed to Leeds General Infirmary for treatment, Ian was given a police escort to hospital where he was told that Debbie had suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage caused by 4mm split in a blood vessel.
The condition, which accounts for one in 20 strokes in the UK, carries no warning signs and can be fatal.
“It’s the kind of thing that only happens on TV,” Ian said. “You’re completely numb, you feel like this shouldn’t be happening to you, we’ve been working all our lives and we’ve got a home and a family. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
The support and powerful words of the police officers who comforted his family and the surgeons who conducted a lifesaving three-hour operation on Debbie have stayed with him.
He explained: “Those coppers outside were absolutely horrified – their faces were pained, they were asking all sorts. They were so concerned.
“And the surgeon just said, ‘it’s serious and life-threatening but we’ve had a look at it and we’re going to get her right’.”
Following a successful procedure, Debbie struggled with a bout of pneumonia, before spending 20 days in hospital and a further two months recuperating at home. She had to relearn motor skills and had to overcome double vision.
“It was me who doesn’t realise how bad it was,” she said. “I couldn’t remember anything. It was frustrating as I was wanting to do things but couldn’t.”
Yet after a traumatic few months, it is the little things that stick in Ian’s memory – the special school bus pass Metro issued their son and the policeman who went out of his way to collect keys from Debbie’s impounded car. He added: “It’s as the surgeon said – everything’s back to normal – and we just want to say a big thank you to the people that helped us.”
In fact the incident has also given the couple the chance to reassess, sparking Ian to cut his hours working in printing. He will go part-time on June 6.
“We are going to go out to the coast and go to the Yorkshire Dales and have tea in Ilkley to spend time together that people take for granted,” he said. “If anything the accident has given us that – it’s helped us re-evaluate.”