Ron and Kay Needham lived the good life. Until his retirement, Ron worked for several top airline companies and one of the biggest perks was free, first-class worldwide travel.
The couple were used to champagne dinners, holidays abroad, cruises and winters in Spain. But life changed completely in December 2008, when Ron had a stroke and initially lost the ability to speak.
He battled to regain his speech and his health and, for a while, retirement and the sunshine holidays continued. Sadly fate dealt Ron another blow in 2011 when his right leg had to be amputated below the knee because of an infection caused by diabetes. Since then he has had three toes amputated from his left foot.
Life is now much harder for both Roy and Kay, but they are determined to continue to enjoy it as much as they can.
They want to encourage other people that it is possible to enjoy a good quality of life after illness - even though they’ve had to adapt to a new way of life.
Ron (80) is the first to admit that life hasn’t been easy since his stroke but he says that excellent treatment at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, ensured he had the best possible chance of recovery. ‘It’s vital to get help within three hours of a stroke,’ says Ron. ‘I was lucky enough to get that treatment. At first I couldn’t speak at all and that was very frightening. ‘I persevered with the help of a speech therapist and helped myself by reading aloud.’
Ron says that losing his leg - after 50 years as a diabetic - was far harder than suffering a stroke. ‘I had to learn to walk again with a prosthetic leg and it was very tough,’ says Ron. ‘I don’t want to use a wheelchair so I have persevered with a wheeled walking frame.’
Kay, who met Ron when they both worked for Transworld Airlines, says that her life is now completely different as she is Ron’s carer. ‘When you suddenly become a carer, you realise how much the other person has done in the home,’ says Kay. ‘It’s hard now for Ron to do a lot of physical work, so it’s down to me.’
Kay says that during the last five years she’s learned just how stressful life can be for carers. ‘When Ron had the stroke, I was so stressed out, I hardly knew what to do,’ she says. ‘When the stroke happened, he was speaking gobbledegook and then he couldn’t speak at all. I really wondered how life would be.’ Both Kay and Ron acknowledge the fact that, compared to some people, Ron recovered well after his stroke. However they have both found the loss of Ron’s leg hard to cope with.
‘Ron’s always had rather a short fuse and he’s definitely become more impatient and frustrated since losing his leg,’ admits Kay.
‘I think life is very stressful for carers. I sometimes want to help Ron but he’s very independent and is determined to do things his own way. We sometimes have words and when we do, I’ll take myself off for a while until things calm down. My garden is a real lifeline to me and I read a lot.’
Kay says they have both decided that holidays abroad are now just too stressful and they will be holidaying in England this year.
One of the positive things to come out of their situation is that they have started a local stroke support group in their home town of Ramsey, Cambridgeshire and they now organise monthly meetings.
‘We realised looking around that there are always other people in a worse situation,’ says Kay. ‘Life’s not always easy but you have to get on with it whatever happens. There is no choice. When things go wrong we try to laugh, otherwise we’d cry.’