SIX months ago former soldier Chris Allsopp’s life changed.
“There was no warning,” the 49-year-old told The Star.
“I woke up as normal and got up to go to work. I stood up out of bed and felt light-headed.
“And the next thing I knew I was in hospital.”
Chris, a married father-of-three from Woodhouse, Sheffield, had suffered a sudden and debilitating stroke.
A pulmonary embolism, a clot in the lungs, had travelled through a hole in his heart up to his brain, where it blocked a vital artery.
Chris was used to being fit and active, with 23 years in the Royal Engineers behind him and service in the Falklands and Bosnia to his name.
“I just couldn’t believe it had happened to me. I was just 48, and although no spring chicken, I just didn’t think it could happen to me.”
The former staff sergeant spent a month at the Royal Hallamshire’s stroke unit.
“I couldn’t walk at first, and I think if they had their way I would still be in a wheelchair,” he said.
“But I was determined to walk out of hospital.
“I progressed to a Zimmer frame and then a crutch, and I walked out of hospital with a stick a month later.”
Now Chris, who has worked for an educational charity since he retired from the Army in 2002, is learning how to deal with life after a stroke.
“They say it is like bereavement,” he said. “You have to reinvent yourself, because you have lost a lot of yourself.”
The tough former soldier has found himself emotionally vulnerable, often crying at the TV, and prone to bouts of anxiety and depression.
“It feels like I’ve lost a lot of my resilience,” he said.
Chris, who lives with wife Julie, 53, is still struggling with his speech, and has weakness all down his right-hand side, but considers himself to have dodged a bullet.
“I class myself as extremely fortunate,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of help, especially from the British Legion.
“But I know there are a lot of people who don’t have any kind of help at all.”
Chris, together with fellow stroke victim Alan Lindley, is setting up a stroke support group for people of working age who have suffered a stroke.
Alan, 46, from Base Green, said: “Once the community stroke support team leaves, you are left dangling.
“People have strokes at very young ages – but there is life after having a stroke.
“This is a group for people who still want to do something with their lives, or who might need a bit of a nudge to get going.”
Alan had a series of strokes three years ago, when he was just 42, leaving him with just a quarter of his sight and relying on a guide dog.
“I was a self-employed plasterer, getting up at daft o’clock to put food on the table for my wife and two sons,” he said.
“I had always kept very active. I had done mixed martial arts since the age of 16, had always done a lot of outdoor pursuits and a lot of rock climbing.
“I woke up one morning and couldn’t see very well. I thought I had caught something in my eye.”
Alan went to his GP, expecting to be sent home with eye drops, and was instead sent to the Royal Hallamshire’s eye clinic.
He was referred to the neurology department, where doctors discovered he had suffered three mini strokes that had robbed him of most of his sight.
Frustrated and confused, Alan persuaded the hospital to discharge him, and he spent the next few weeks in a state of shock.
“People wanted to wrap me in cotton wool, but I didn’t want that – I wanted things to go back to the way they were before.
“I had lost my balance, my memory was gone, my entire left side was really weak, and I could not read.
“I didn’t want anybody to know what had happened because I thought strokes were an old-age thing.”
Now, three years on, Alan has got his life back together.
His guide dog Nyle has given him the freedom to walk around, enabling him to get his fitness and strength back, and he has taken a number of courses at Manor Training and Resource Centre, learning how to read again, and doing courses in English, maths, computing and sign language.
Now he is planning to go to university to do a degree in theology.
“It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “There is life after a stroke.”
n Chris and Alan want to set up a support group for younger stroke survivors. Their initial meeting will be held at the Beech Hill Rehab Unit on Norfolk Park Road on Sunday April 21 at 11am. For details call Chris on 0114 288 0727.