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'Fit and healthy' boy, 10, almost died five minutes after mum dropped him off at school

Joey Tildesley-Devine was feeling fine when he went to school and mum Karen was still on the grounds when she got the call to say her son was unwell. He was quickly taken to hospital

By Kelly-Ann Mills & Charlotte Hadfield

11:24, 17 NOV 2020

A 'fit and healthy' schoolboy had a stroke at school just five minutes after being dropped off at school by his unsuspecting mum.  Joey Tildesley-Devine had gone to Queen's Park Primary School in St Helens as normal, feeling fine and displaying no signs of being unwell.  But within five minutes of dropping him off, Karen, who was still in the school building, got a call from one of his teachers to say "Joey has had a funny turn."

She rushed up to the classroom where she found Joey with a "drooped face" and loss of movement in the right side of his body.  After phoning for an ambulance which she was told could take a while to arrive, Karen rang Joey's dad Nick, and they decided to take him to hospital themselves.  Dad Nick, 39, told the Liverpool Echo: "Karen made the decision to take him to hospital ourselves.  It's a decision that has stuck with her to this day. It saved his life."

During the journey, unbeknown to Nick who was driving at the time, Joey had gone into spasm and stopped breathing on the back seat of the car.  Mum Karen, 42, who works as a midwife at Whiston Hospital, had to resuscitate Joey and saved his life.  Nick said: "I was driving, Karen was in the back with Joey and her dad was in the front with me.  She only told me afterwards that Joey started to convulse. He went into spasm and stopped breathing.  She had to resuscitate him in the back of the car and open his airways. I didn't know anything about this until two weeks later."

Karen rang ahead to Whiston Hospital to let staff know what had happened and within minutes of arriving, Joey was rushed into a room with a team of 30 medical staff.  Nick said doctors initially suspected that Joey may have had a seizure but they soon realised he had actually suffered from a serious stroke.  Joey was incubated and transferred to Alder Hey Children's Hospital by ambulance, where he went into theatre immediately.  Nick said: "They had to get him into a theatre straight away. They said there was 'a 50 per cent chance he wouldn't make it and 100 per cent chance he wouldn't make it if we don't operate.'"

"One hour ago we were ready to go to work and now we're at Alder Hey and Joey was going in for brain surgery.  We sat in a side room going through the motions.  One minute we were planning his funeral then we were happy thinking he was doing well and then we were crying again.  We were sat there thinking someone is going to come and tell us in a minute that our son is dead."

During the surgery doctors found that the stroke was caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which had burst and caused a bleed on Joey's brain.  Thankfully doctors managed to successfully remove the AVM and Joey was transferred to a high dependency unit where he was put into an induced coma for the following five days.  The 10-year-old lost his speech and the use of his right arm and leg as a result of the stroke which took place back in November 2018, and he had to learn to walk and talk again.  Karen said: “We were so relieved to see Joey open his eyes. He had survived but could hardly move or say a word.  But around three weeks later, Nick and I were by Joey’s bed. We were communicating with him using a printed-out keyboard and I said, ‘You will get better Joey. You know that, don’t you?’  He started pointing to letters: D E T E R M... I was so excited and I said, “Are you determined you’ll get better?” The sparkle in his eyes told me all I needed to know.  That moment was a first glimmer of hope for us and we couldn’t have asked for a better present."

"Then on Christmas Eve, Joey was able to come home for two days.  He couldn’t get up the stairs, so we had a hospital bed in the living room, right next to the Christmas tree. It was a bit cramped, so I slept on the floor at the side of him. My boy was home."

After Christmas Joey went back to Alder Hey where he spent the following three months receiving treatment including physiotherapy, speech therapy and having school lessons there.  He was discharged from hospital in March 2019 and now two years on, he has made amazing progress.  Despite not being able to walk or talk after his stroke, Joey can now walk independently and apart from stumbling over his words every now and again he can speak well.  Now aged 12, Joey started high school in October 2019 and due to loss of movement in his right hand, he has taught himself how to write with his left hand.  Nick said: "It's actually amazing to see how far he's actually come thanks to the help from everyone at Alder Hey the Physiotherapy, the Speech Therapy, the surgeons, they've all been amazing.  He can walk again now, he just needs a bit of help to position himself.  His progress is continuous. He's improving all the time it's amazing. He's never complained in his life."

Karen added: “One of the things we’ve found really useful is reading stroke survivors’ stories on the Stroke Association’s website.  I learned my fears were ‘normal’ and I started to feel it wasn’t the end of the world, and I could see a more hopeful future. The website has lots of information and child friendly resources too. I also found that following the Stroke Association on social media was a great source of support.”

“Last Christmas, we could never have imagined that Joey would be as strong, mobile and happy as he is today. This has been a tough year for so many reasons, and now we just can’t wait for Christmas.”

Karen and Nick are asking people to make a donation to the Stroke Association’s work supporting survivors and their families, as they rebuild their lives this Christmas.  The charity estimates that there are 4,100 people living with the effects of stroke in St Helens, while around 100,000 people have a stroke across the UK every year.  Kate Charles, Director at the Stroke Association said: “When someone’s life has been shattered by stroke, they may feel all hope is gone. But we also know that stroke survivors cling onto even the smallest glimmer of hope.  This is what powers them on to achieve what many thought would be impossible. I’ve heard so many stories of remarkable people making recoveries even 20 years after their stroke.  This pandemic has had a serious impact on our ability to raise funds through our usual community events and activities. Many people in our support services have praised the support they received from the Stroke Association, to build on that first glimmer of hope so that they could rebuild their lives after stroke. Hope might be found in a call to our Helpline; through the friendship and support of our online community; or the ongoing support of our Stroke Association Support Coordinators.  Rebuilding lives is impossible without hope. And that’s why we’re asking everyone in St Helens and across Merseyside to donate to the Stroke Association and help give someone the gift of hope this Christmas.”