Mum, 28, calls fire brigade after mistaking stroke for a carbon monoxide leak


Charlotte said that her fears about having a stroke were dismissed because of her age (Picture: PA Real Life)

Charlotte Wood, 28, went upstairs to head to bed as usual when she was hit by a ‘wall of gas’ on the stairs.

The hairdresser thought she had stepped into a gas leak – but later she found out she had actually had a stroke.

It happened on November 26 last year, following a two-hour gym session and then an hour watching TV with her builder partner, Tony Marsh, also 28, and their son, Elliott, five.

Charlotte, of Crawley, West Sussex, recalled: ‘It felt like being drunk and stepping outside, when the fresh air suddenly hits you.

‘I lost my balance and thought I must have walked into a carbon monoxide leak.

‘I called downstairs for Tony, who had been letting the dog, Teddy, out into the garden and he came running up, grabbed Elliot out of bed and got us all over to our neighbours.

‘They called the fire brigade to come and check the house for a carbon monoxide leak, but the firefighters couldn’t find any gas.’

But Charlotte felt like her face was going numb and she realised that she might be having a stroke.

She said: ‘Everyone was telling me I was wrong.

‘I couldn’t feel the left side of my face. I could talk, but I was stumbling all over the place.

‘My neighbour gave me a glass of water and on the left-hand side of my mouth, it felt boiling hot, while the right-hand side was freezing cold.

‘I was confused, because I didn’t know whether she’d given me hot or cold water to drink. It was like I had a hot side and a cold side.”’  

Tony and Charlotte (Picture: PA Real Life/Collect)

Charlotte recognised the signs of a stroke from watching graphic TV adverts from Public Health England’s Act FAST campaign.

But when she looked in the glass of her neighbour’s door to see if her face had also dropped – another tell-tale sign – it looked normal.

Tony called an ambulance and when it arrived after two hours, paramedics detected some evidence of carbon monoxide contamination when they tested Charlotte, but deemed the levels too low to be causing her symptoms

‘I told them I was having a stroke, but they kept saying I was too young,’ she said.

‘They thought I had an ear infection, but I’d had one before and it hadn’t felt like this.’

With Public Health England’s data showing the average age of a female stroke victim in England to be 73, Charlotte said the paramedics seemed reluctant to accept that a stroke was causing her symptoms.

‘I kept asking them if I was doing to die,’ she said. ‘They told me I wasn’t, then I remember projectile vomiting all over my neighbour’s doorstep three times, until I was bringing up bile.

‘Then all of a sudden my vision went. It was as if I was really, really drunk and the world was spinning.’

Charlotte, Elliot and Tony (Picture: PA Real Life/Collect)

She was taken to hospital and a CT scan confirmed that her fear that she’d had a stroke.

Charlotte started to see why a stroke had not been the obvious diagnosis when she was admitted to a specialist ward where, as the only patient under 50, she was asked by shocked nurses what on earth she was doing there.

Transferred afterwards to a stroke rehabilitation unit 10 miles away, where she learned to walk again, she said: ‘If I tried to walk, I would just fall over to the left side.

‘I could speak and understand everyone and my memory was fine, but I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t lift my left leg. I was dragging it when I tried to walk.

‘But with Christmas looming, after just a week and a half in rehabilitation, doctors allowed Charlotte to spend weekends at home, which she says helped her to regain her mobility.

‘My mum, my brother and my partner all let me lean on them for support, but I was moving a lot more than when I was in the hospital, so I was recovering faster,” she said.

‘If Elliott was hungry, I wanted to make his sandwich, so I was forcing myself to move around. I was using the kitchen work surfaces to hold myself up and did much better at home, so on December 16 the doctors discharged me.’

Doctors told Charlotte that something she had done earlier in the day had damaged a large blood vessel in her neck, affecting the blood supply to her brain – known as cervical artery dissection. This is one of the most common causes of stroke in people under 50, according to Bupa UK.

Charlotte was also told that no one will ever know what caused the stroke, it could have been her gym session, but it could also have been caused simply by picking her little boy up or turning her head awkwardly when driving.

Fortunately, this kind of stroke does not increase the risk of having another.

Charlotte is now well on the way to making a full recovery but as she was unable to work while she was ill, her friend Yazmin Fernandez kindly set up a GoFundMe page, to help the family financially.

Now walking, but with a limp, because her left leg remains very stiff, she is not currently allowed to drive or return to the gym and still suffers with extreme tiredness and occasional blurred vision.

Charlotte said: ‘If this has taught me anything it is not to take for granted all the stuff I could do before, and I now know that your life can change in a moment.’

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