HE was a super-fit marathon runner, a loving family man and a respected police officer.
But suddenly Richard Ford’s life changed forever.
Richard was just 41 when he suffered a massive brain stem stroke on June 9, which left him completely paralysed.
From being a healthy man in the prime of his life he became helpless, trapped in a useless body and only able to communicate by blinking.
But now, after months of painstaking rehabilitation Richard is on the road to recovery.
Richard’s wife Jude, also a police officer, told how the Holmbridge family’s life changed the day after a happy day out to York’s National Railway Museum with sons Harry, seven, Oscar, five, and two-year-old Archie.
Richard had been complaining of a severe headache, but Jude, also 41, thought he might have been exaggerating.
The next she knew Harry alerted her to Richard’s muffled shouts from the bathroom.
He had collapsed and wasn’t able to get up.
Still not believing there was anything seriously wrong, Jude ushered the boys off to a childminder and rang the ambulance.
“Because of the job we do I kept quite calm,” said Jude. “I was probably in shock. I told the paramedics I would follow in the car, but they said it was best if I went in the ambulance.
“Even when they were struggling to find a vein and when we got to the hospital and they said it didn’t look very good, I still didn’t appreciate how serious it was. It was almost as if I was looking at someone else.”
Doctors at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary suspected meningitis at first or possibly a blood clot so deep in a vein it wasn’t detectable.
A dye test found the clot – in the brain stem – the worst possible place.
Fortunately, a specialist in clot retrieval surgery just happened to be working at Leeds General Infirmary that day and Richard was transferred under blue lights.
Jude didn’t see him before he was rushed straight into theatre.
“We were so lucky this surgeon was in Leeds and was able to carry out this surgery which wasn’t available even a couple of years ago,” said Jude.
“Richard had had a stroke, but he was only 41 and was so fit and healthy. He would be the last person you would expect to have a stroke.”
The surgery was successful, but by that time the clot had starved Richard’s brain of oxygen for eight hours and the prognosis was bleak.
“The doctors said things didn’t look good and the next 72 hours would be crucial,” said Jude. “Looking back I think they thought he would die.”
But Richard’s physical strength and fitness saw him cling to life.
He was under sedation and when that was gradually removed he didn’t show the reaction the doctors hoped for.
“When Richard came off sedation he was completely locked in,” said Jude. “He was intellectually completely intact, but he couldn’t speak or move. It was just like he was in a coffin.”
A tearful Jude recalled how she asked Richard to squeeze her hand to prove he was still there, trapped.
“I could feel him flexing and trying, but he just couldn’t squeeze my hand. I knew he was willing so much to do it.
“The doctors kept monitoring him day by day and my fear was that one day they would say it was not working and they would switch the machine off.”
Richard, though, did make improvements, slowly. Over the weeks he was able to communicate by blinking his eyes – once for yes, twice for no.
“We would talk to him and we knew he was aware,” said Jude. “His sergeant came in and told him about a court case and that the victim was so grateful. “We could see Richard was so pleased to hear that. He still understood and cared so much.”
Eventually Richard left the high dependency unit and was put on a ward.
“It was slow progress but progress it was,” said Jude. “Initially he was like a floppy doll but then, with physio, he kept on improving.”
Jude had to battle, though, for the five times a week 45 minutes of physio recommended for responding stroke patients. She even wrote to the Health Secretary.
“Because of the physio and Richard’s willingness to fight for his family he kept improving,” said Jude.
“He is a fantastic daddy and because I worked shifts he often did the child care. He wanted to get better for his boys.”
Richard is still in hospital, but now has control of his head and neck and has some feeling in both hands and his right leg.
Richard, a detective constable, now has a special £12,000 computer which translates his eye movements into voiced words.
Richard looks at individual letters for 1.4 seconds and makes up words and phrases which are then spoken by the computer.
“He can now tell us whether he wants to watch Match Of The Day or if he needs another pillow,” said Jude.
“But, more than that, he can now communicate with the children asking them how they got on at school or playing football.”
A recent big step forward came when Richard found his gag reflex, which enables him to swallow, was still intact.
That means he can eat and drink and he is now having three softened, but warm, meals a day.
“Richard cried tears of joy when he found he could still eat. It was soul-destroying for him not to be able to eat solid food for five months.”
Doctors have since discovered that Richard has a blood disorder and a narrowed artery which may be genetic, but his experience shows that stroke can strike at any age.
“It’s not just old people, unfit people or overweight people,” said Jude. “It can happen to anyone.”
Richard now has a provisional hospital discharge date of December 17, but either way Jude wants him home for Christmas.
“Even if we only have him home for a few days he will be spending Christmas at home,” said Jude.
Richard continues to improve, but Jude said: “The prognosis is still unknown but you have to believe you can beat the odds.
“I have spoken to a woman who suffered a massive brain stem stroke at the age of 39 and she was locked in too, but she has made a full recovery. With Richard’s determination anything is possible.”
Another factor which could spur Richard’s recovery is the desire to ensure his sons don’t grow up as Huddersfield Town fans!
Richard is a Leicester City fan, but a family friend is now taking the boys to the John Smith’s Stadium.
“I think they might become little Terriers,” smiled Jude.
A trust has been set up to support the family and other stroke victims.
A football-related sporting fundraiser is being planned and the trust wants as many football club No9 shirts as possible to auction.
Richard’s beloved Leicester have already contributed. For more details see www.therichardfordtrust.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations of shirts or memorabilia for auction or raffle can be left at Huddersfield Police Station.