The day I had a stroke... aged 28

Thomas Meneghello had a stroke when he was 28 (he's now 32). He's had to do loads of physio to be ab

Thomas Meneghello had a stroke when he was 28 (he's now 32). He's had to do loads of physio to be able to walk and he has no use whatsoever of his left arm. He's fundraising to buy some kind of robotic arm which will help him use the arm - Credit: Nick Butcher

It crept up silently in the night, stopping a life in its tracks.

Thomas Meneghello had a stroke when he was 28 (he's now 32). He's had to do loads of physio to be ab

Thomas Meneghello had a stroke when he was 28 (he's now 32). He's had to do loads of physio to be able to walk and he has no use whatsoever of his left arm. He's fundraising to buy some kind of robotic arm which will help him use the arm - Credit: Nick Butcher

As he slept, Tom Meneghello's life had changed without him realising – a stroke, caused by a rare disease he had only been diagnosed with six weeks earlier had attacked his brain, only to be followed by a second, even more devastating stroke later the same day.

'The first I knew was when I got up, thinking that I'd go to the supermarket, and walked straight into the doorframe instead of through the door,' said Tom, who is now 32 and lives in Kessingland, near Lowestoft.

'My wife pointed out that my face looked strange, that it had dropped on one side, and she took me to A&E. I had another stroke there that night – it was as if someone had drawn a line down my body and half of it didn't work any more. My left arm and leg were useless, my neck was twisted and I couldn't talk very well.

'I'd never felt as terrified as I did that night although back then, I really believed that I'd be home soon. I didn't appreciate the magnitude of what had happened, I remember asking the doctors when they thought I'd be able to go running again.

'It wasn't until I was out of hospital that I realised that things weren't going to go back to normal. It sounds like a cliché, but I felt my life crumbling away from me, everything fell apart – the plans I had, the life I thought I was going to have, it was all gone.'

Every year in the UK, 150,000 people have a stroke: 50,000 die, 50,000 are left with severe disability, 50,000 make a full recovery. And the number of younger people having strokes is increasing: despite the overall figure for strokes dropping, strokes in the 20 to 64 age group now make up nearly a third of the total number of strokes compared with a quarter in 1990.

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For Tom, having a stroke at the age of 28 abruptly applied the brakes to his life. Born in Milan, the first of four boys for his Italian father and his British mother, the family moved back to mum Helen's Lowestoft home when Tom was 10 and he attended junior and high schools in the town.

After studying drama at Newcastle University, Tom had jobs in internet TV in both Reykjavik and London before moving to Nottingham with wife-to-be Jenny.

Just a week before his wedding in October 2010, and after visiting the doctor for a totally-unrelated breathing issue, Tom was diagnosed with an incredibly rare autoimmune disease which affects only two or three people in every million – Takayasu's arteritis is a disease of the arteries, colloquially known as 'the pulseless disease' because patients often have weak or absent pulses in their arms, hands and wrists.

Inflammation in the walls of the arteries leads to their narrowing which can reduce blood flow to many parts of the body or, as Tom's doctor told him bluntly, 'it means that you're now at a higher risk of having a stroke.'

With just days before his marriage, Tom dismissed the warning, imagining it to be something he would have to face a long time in the future, if at all.

'Most people have strokes because they eat too many burgers, drink too much or smoke. I was healthy, I played hockey, I felt absolutely fine. Telling me that I was at risk of having a stroke was like telling someone who smokes that they're going to get lung cancer – you know it could happen, you just don't think it will happen within six weeks of being told,' he said.

Back in his Nottingham flat, Tom was virtually imprisoned at home – unable to power the wheelchair he was using himself, he was entirely reliant on help in order to live his life but was determined to fight his way back to independence.

After many arduous months of physiotherapy, Tom was able to walk again with the use of a stick, but his arm remained largely useless.

He was told that any post-stroke improvements in mobility were likely to happen within two years and that his arm was unlikely to improve.

'But I thought 'let's keep going'. Lots of people who have strokes are older and are happy to regain a little bit of movement, but I am young – I wanted to get back to how I was before, or as close to it as I possibly could,' he said.

In the three and a half years that followed his stroke, Tom has suffered from severe depression, his marriage has broken down and he has struggled to find the help he needs from the National Health Service, opting instead to have private physiotherapy sessions to help him regain the use of his left arm.

'I try and concentrate on the positive and not the negative,' said Tom, 'My brain could have exploded that night and I could have died. I am right-handed and the stroke could have affected my right-hand side and not my left. But it's still hard – I see my friends going out to play badminton and I wish I could go with them.

'Sometimes it's hard not to feel sorry for yourself because most people that have strokes are so much older than I am. Even the doctors struggle with it – all their systems are in place for older people.

'They're used to getting people fit enough to make themselves a cup of tea – I want to be able to do a lot more than that!'

To help him take the next step, Tom needs to raise the necessary funds to purchase a piece of high-tech kit – the Saebo Flex is an arm splint that offers support, strengthens the deltoids and helps the hand to open and close, offering its user a greater deal of control over their limb.

He is looking to raise £800 and, with friends and family, will be holding a special fundraising three-course Italian feast and quiz at the Stella Peskett Millennium Hall in Southwold on July 26 at 7pm.

His parents, who are professional caterers, will provide the food which will include antipasti, a pork or citrus chicken main dish, Mediterranean salad, ciabatta and a choice of desserts (vegetarian options will also be available).

And for Tom, the future is looking brighter. He hopes to be offered a flat by a housing association in the near future so he can leave his parents' home ('they've been great, but living with your mum and dad when you're in your 30s really isn't ideal!' he laughed), he has a new girlfriend and he's hoping to find a job.

'It's been a really hard few years but things are finally starting to look up for me,' he said.

'There were times when I just wanted to give up, but you keep going and you keep trying. It took me a year to walk again after the stroke but I was determined. And I am determined to try everything I can to get some use back in my arm.'

How you can help: tickets for the event on July 26 cost £15 per person, which includes a three-course meal, entry to a quiz and coffee (bring your own bottles).

Email for details. Use the same email to pledge a donation if you are unable to attend the event.