When Stephen Jennings suffered a massive stroke in his front room, wife-of-23-years Brenda was there for him – and she has barely left his side since.
Stephen, 61, remembers nothing about his 2020 seizure – or being in intensive care – but Brenda, 73, will never forget it. That day, Stephen lost his independence as well as the sight in his left eye and the Edinburgh couple’s life as they knew it changed forever.
Grandmother-of-one Brenda said: “Stephen got up for work one morning – just a few days before his sixtieth birthday – and call through to me from the bathroom as he could not put his trousers on.
“I helped him into the living room and made him a cup of tea.
“The next thing was the coffee table went up in the air, his whole body went stiff and he was having a seizure. He had a bleed on the brain which caused a massive stroke.
“I called 999 and he was still in seizure when the ambulance arrived.
“It was at the start of the pandemic, but I was allowed to go into the ambulance with him. All of a sudden, he opened his eyes, turned and looked at me, and put his thumb up – that’s when I realised, Stephen knows who I am.
“I had nightmares for months after that.”
Stephen added: “I woke up in intensive care – but I didn’t know what had happened to me. When a doctor told me, I could not believe it. He said if I had left for work that day, I wouldn’t be here.”
Before his stroke, Stephen worked as a social care practitioner with people with learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and brain injuries. He then went on to work for charity, Visualise Scotland. There he, ironically, worked with those who were blind or partially-sighted.
It was a job he loved, but he never imagined he would have to give it up when he, himself, lost his sight. His career was not the only thing he was forced to give up. A sociable pair, the Jennings enjoyed attending parties and social events, especially eating out in Edinburgh city centre, but they have rarely been over the door since.
Stephen’s stroke has caused permanent sight loss in his left eye, visual impairment in the right eye and he cannot judge depth. He also finds it difficult to walk.
Until recently, they had been missing out on social activities. However, with our support they are getting out and about again – together and separately. Stephen, who served in the Territorial Army from the age of 17, qualified for help from the charity because he served in the Armed Forces.
Stephen loved his time in the Forces, he said.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being in the TA, I trained for the Falkland’s with the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots, although I never went to the Falkland’s. I made a lot of pals in the Terries. I wanted to sign up for the regular Army but I had to look after my dad, who had cancer, and my mum wasn’t well either.
“But everything happens for a reason, as I would not have met Brenda if I’d signed up.”
Months went by after Stephen’s stroke before the Jennings learned about Sight Scotland Veterans from stroke charity, Longstone. Brenda said “We had a visit from Kate from Sight Scotland Veterans. She gave him a wee white cane to use, and now she is training him to use a long cane. This allows him to go out for walks again.
“Sight Scotland Veterans also gave us a one-cup kettle for the kitchen, which is one of the best things for Stephen. He can make everyone a cup of tea now.
“Every Friday, Stephen goes to Sight Scotland Veterans’ Linburn Centre. When I first heard about this, I felt I was free. I hadn’t been out for over two years – so now I go for lunch with my sister on Fridays. I couldn’t do that before as I had to be there for Stephen.
“The support we have received from Sight Scotland Veterans has been fantastic.”
Now the couple look forward to Fridays and leading a better life.
Stephen added: “The things I took for granted were taken away – like getting on a bus and going to the toilet.
“But I cannot fault them for what Sight Scotland Veterans support workers have done for me. The equipment they have given me is unbelievable.
“And I look forward to going to the Linburn Centre every Friday. It gives me something to do – I have done archery, shooting, bowling and I am going to use the gym soon.”
And now he has a message for others, who might find themselves in a similar position, having served in the Armed Forces and now suffering sight loss or visual impairment.
“Because I used to be a support worker myself, I find it really hard to accept help. I don’t want help – but I need it. I find it hard to accept my independence has been taken away.
“Anyone who has served in the Army, Navy, RAF, Reserves or the Terries can contact Sight Scotland Veterans. A lot of people don’t know this help is available. Call them, as they will help and support you.”
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