‘Every day is a little better than the day before’ – how Sprowston headteacher is fighting back from stroke aged just 49
- Credit: Boyce family
Never did the Boyce family imagine their lives would be forever transformed by a stroke.
But today, that is the reality Richard Boyce, his wife and children are so bravely dealing with – after their much-loved father and husband suffered a life-changing stroke aged just 49.
It was a devastating event which left Richard, headteacher at Sprowston's Falcon Junior School, with severe mobility problems and mean he has to learn how to walk again.
Yet more than four months on from that unexpected day, which changed everything, the family's positive spirit has shone through – with wife Lou saying: 'There's always light at the end of the tunnel.'
She is determined her husband will make a full recovery – and, this weekend, they will show their fighting spirit when avid runner Lou, 47, completes her 100th Eaton parkrun, with Richard waiting for her at the finish.
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Like most people, the Boyces never thought such a devastating stroke could happen to someone so young.
Richard was at the height of his career and living a happy life at home in Hethersett, with his wife and four children, when a stroke hit while Lou was at the Take That concert at Carrow Road on June 16.
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As she arrived home, the couple's children told her dad had suffered a 'funny turn'.
When he still seemed ill the following morning, nursery teacher Lou decided to call an ambulance.
It transpired Richard had suffered a stroke – and as he was taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge for emergency treatment he had another, more serious one.
Brain surgeons urgently had to perform surgery. After 10 days in Addenbrooke's, he was transferred to the Mulberry Unit at Norwich Community Hospital for rehabilitation – and the long road towards recovery began.
Over the next 10 weeks, the family received what Mrs Boyce described as 'amazing' support, both from staff at the hospital and the wider community.
Of the workers at the Mulberry Unit, Mrs Boyce said: 'The amount of time they gave us was incredible.
'They got to know us as a family. From the second we phoned the ambulance to today, the service that's been available for the whole family has been amazing.
'Stroke support in Norfolk is outstanding.'
Richard's stroke left him with a loss of mobility down his left-hand side, with Lou saying: 'It opens your eyes to the world of disability.
'However you don't know the end until you've got to the end. No two strokes are the same, and attitude seems to play a major part in recovery.'
The family, she said, has been 'absolutely amazing' in rallying round.
'My children have just picked up the baton and become carers,' she said.
'I'll never be able to thank them enough. I am relentlessly proud of them.'
But friends, extended family and the wider community have also stepped in, even helping with basic jobs around the house.
'We've seen the best of humanity in the past four months,' she said.
'There have been so many people who have come to help. It's just overwhelming.'
Richard was even visited in person in hospital by Australian rugby legend Michael Lynagh, who himself suffered a life-threatening stroke which caused the loss of half his vision in both eyes.
The World Cup winner, who wrote the book Blindsided about his experience, even text messages Lou to ask how Richard is getting on, offering support and encouragement.
'That was amazing, when he came and saw him in hospital,' Lou said.
'That was really inspiring.'
The past four months have also shown the best of Richard's spirit, with Lou saying: 'He's been unbelievably positive.
'He's stubborn, which helps – but he's determined.
'I never imagined he'd ever have a stroke. It's life-changing.
'Our lives have been completely turned upside down – but every day gets better, it doesn't get worse.
'Every day is a little better than the day before.'
Lou often goes running at 6am but has done the parkrun at Eaton Park for a number of years.
'Running is my escapism,' she said.
'I've always loved to run but since life has got that little bit more challenging, I rely on running as therapy.
'When Richard became ill, the 100th parkrun became a milestone for me.
'I know that it's going to be really emotional but I'm determined to get to the finish line where Richard will be waiting for me.
'It's not about the run for me – it's about celebrating the fact that we're together.'
Lou is raising money for the Stroke Association at the parkrun and is encouraging everyone to wear purple, the charity's colour.
'Stroke is a devastating condition,' she said. 'It comes in an instant and changes everything.
'I want to support the Stroke Association so other families like mine can get the right help and support.
'I'm so passionate to raise awareness to others about stroke.'
George Burroughs, community events and fundraising manager at the Stroke Association, said: 'With around 1.2m people across the UK living with the devastating impact of stroke, it is vital that we have people like Lou to raise funds and help us conquer stroke.
'The money raised will fund vital research and support for stroke survivors, as well as help to prevent people from having a stroke.'
Lou has already raised more than £2,500. Anyone wishing to donate should visit www.justgiving.com/lou-boyce