Mum releases shocking picture of her daughter 10 minutes before a life-threatening stroke

22nd Feb 18 | Real Life

A family day out turned into a disaster when Debbie suffered a stroke.

Debbie Schofield - stroke (5) Cropped

One minute, a Hertfordshire mum was taking a beaming selfie with her family, on the top deck of a historic Routemaster bus, at the start of a festive adventure.

Just 10 minutes later, senior scientific officer Debbie Schofield, 37, was fighting for life, after suffering a major stroke.

Fortunately, her mum, Janet Walker, 64, of Potters Barr, Herts., recognised the symptoms after seeing an NHS advert on Facebook, using the acronym FAST, adding: “Instinctively, I knew Debbie was having a stroke. I just thought 'FAST – which stands for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call emergency services. Seeing Debbie's face droop, I asked if she could speak. She started to, but her words – which had been fine minutes earlier - were slurring.”

Debbie cuddles daughter, Millie (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie cuddles daughter Millie (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “Then, I asked to lift up her arm, which she couldn’t, even though 10 minutes before she’d picked up her arm to take the selfie of us all. Then I thought, 'Time to call the emergency services,' and ordered Nicky Makani, my other daughter, downstairs. She told the driver to stop the bus and call an ambulance, which arrived within 15 minutes.”

The medical drama unfolded on December 16 last year, when Debbie, also of Potters Barr, complained of a "pounding headache" and her eyes rolled to the back of her head. She and her daughter, Millie, five; Nicky, 41, and her daughter Emily Makani, seven, and Janet were all travelling by Routemaster to North Weald train station in Essex for the start of a special festive train journey.

According to medics, Janet remembered the FAST abbreviation – promoted by the NHS as an easy way to remember what to do if you think someone is having a stroke – in the nick of time.

A family selfie in hospital. Left to right (from front): Janet Walker, Nicky Makani, Emily Makani, Debbie Schofield, Grahame Walker and Millie Schofield(Collect/PA Real Life)
A family selfie in hospital. Left to right (from front): Janet Walker, Nicky Makani, Emily Makani, Debbie Schofield, Grahame Walker and Millie Schofield(Collect/PA Real Life)

"I've been told I saved her life and that's brilliant to hear," Janet continued. "Until this happened, we were having a lovely day. Every year a special festive train, with people dressed in Christmas outfits, travels from North Weald to Ongar in Essex.

"The children wanted to go on it, so we planned it as a special treat ahead of December 25 – getting to the station on an old Routemaster bus. We were all wearing reindeer ears and were about 10 minutes into our journey, not far from the station, when Debbie had the stroke."

When paramedics arrived, they faced the challenge of getting Debbie safely down the narrow staircase of the historic 1960s bus, as she drifted in and out of consciousness.

Millie and Debbie Schofield (Collect/PA Real Life)
Millie and Debbie Schofield (Collect/PA Real Life)

"Around five paramedics sat with her on the top deck,” Janet recalled. "I was with the children, who were obviously scared. Eventually they managed to get Debbie on to a blow-up stretcher, which they twisted down the stairs."

Finally, Debbie was taken by ambulance, with her sister, to Queen's Hospital in Romford, Essex, while Janet dropped the children off with family, before following on.

"A later CT scan showed a tear in an artery in her neck," she explained. "They think this is where the stroke started. They gave her blood thinning drugs and she slept and slept."

Debbie's daughter, Millie (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie’s daughter, Millie (Collect/PA Real Life)

A few days later, Debbie was well enough to be transferred to Barnet General Hospital in Barnet, North London, going from there to a rehabilitation centre near where she lives.

"She spent weeks there and was so brave," said Janet. "She had two weeks of intensive rehabilitation, before she was allowed home. She could barely speak and was totally paralysed down the right side of her body."

At the end of January, Debbie – who was partially paralysed for more than a month, is having continuing intensive rehabilitation and remains unable to speak normally – was discharged, moving in with her mum and dad, Grahame, 68.

Sisters, Nicky Makani and Debbie Schofield (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sisters, Nicky Makani and Debbie Schofield (Collect/PA Real Life)

"We have her and Millie with us now," smiled Janet. "Grahame is helping her with her speech therapy. I couldn't.... we would giggle too much.”

Keen to raise awareness of the dangers of strokes in younger people, Janet shared the family selfie, taken immediately before Debbie’s terrifying experience, on Facebook. Accompanying the snap, she wrote: "I felt I just had to post this. 10 mins after this pic was taken my daughter Debbie had a major stroke. She was perfectly fine before this happened and she is only 37.

"I am so happy to say that she is making an excellent recovery, but I want people to be aware that this can happen to anyone young and old and if I hadn't see the post on here about strokes and known to act fast, it may have been a different story, so please read this."

Mum and daughter, Janet Walker and Debbie Schofield (Collect/PA Real Life)
Mum and daughter, Janet Walker and Debbie Schofield (Collect/PA Real Life)

Check-out operator Nicky is similarly keen for people to recognise the signs of a stroke. She recalled: “We were going to see Santa when Debbie had a stroke. At first, when she said she had a headache in the car, I thought it was a hangover, because she had been out the night before. Then, suddenly, she got really sick and Mum realised it was a stroke. Now I want everyone to know about the signs. If you do, you can dial 999. The quicker the better."

Meanwhile, Debbie believes she owes her life to her mum’s quick-thinking. She said: "It's shocking to think that one minute we were posing for a picture and the next thing I was nearly dead. In fact, if it wasn't for Mum, I would be dead.

"I want all people to know about FAST... it could save your life."

© Press Association 2018

MORE FROM XPOSÉ