A DAD has told of the “heart wrenching” moment he had to tell his young daughters that their mum and the love of his life was not going to survive after she had a major stroke at just 46.

Stephen Kinnaird’s long-term partner Justine Hird died days before Christmas last year after she suffered a catastrophic bleed on the brain while she was at home with her children Thea, 11, and Elsa, 6, in Pollokshields on Glasgow’s South Side on December 6 last year.

While his daughters were putting up the family’s Christmas tree, Stephen had to break the worst possible news to his children, after an agonising few days following surgery clinging to hope that she would recover.

The fit and active mum-of-two who had worked as a fabric consultant for US lingerie firm Victoria’s Secret, had suffered no warning signs aside from a slight headache earlier that day.

A major stroke is often preceded by a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or ‘mini stroke’ which occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow, causing stroke-like symptoms.

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Stephen had just switched on his mobile after arriving at Glasgow airport from a work trip to London,when he learned that something was seriously wrong at their home in Pollokshields on Glasgow’s south side.

“There was this barrage of messages and one said: “I don’t know what’s wrong with mummy?”

He found Justine lying on the couch, clutching her arm, her eldest, panic-stricken daughter, Thea, beside her. Her face, Stephen recalls, was drooping slightly on one side.

“She was smiling. I think she knew something drastic had happened to her own body and was glad I was there to look after the girls.

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“I didn’t know that it was a stroke but something was telling me that it was.The next day I listened to a voicemail from Thea and she sounded utterly panicked.” Stephen says.

“They had come back from a walk in Pollok Park and Justine had gone for a lie down and had asked Thea to put her younger sister to bed, which was unheard of.

“About ten minutes later, Justine had got up walked through to Thea’s room and just went completely to one side. She managed to get to the couch and just literally collapsed. She couldn’t speak. It was as if she couldn’t hear Thea. That’s when Thea knew there was something wrong. She had tried to get hold of me and when she couldn’t, she called an ambulance.”

The paramedics started doing the FAST test, the mnemonic used to help detect if someone has suffered a stroke: Facial Drooping, Arm weakness, speech difficulties and time to call an ambulance.)

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“She couldn’t speak but was making groaning sounds. She was holding her arm and trying to move it.”

Justine was taken to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, while Stephen arranged for his mum to come and look after the girls as they made their way there.

“We were taken into a room and I knew straight away it was catastrophic because of the face of the woman who came out to speak to me.” he says.

“She said you need to expect the worst here. Thea started freaking out. I then went through to see her. She was awake but dazed.

“The A&E specialist said it was a massive stroke. They could see a huge shadow on the left side of her brain. She took me away from Thea. She was hoping that things might improve but that they would probably have to operate because of the swelling on the brain and she told me the procedure would involve removing part of her skull.

“A couple of the doctors I met actually cried, when they found out I had young children, so I sensed that things weren’t good at all.”

However, Stephen tried to stay positive and the family were given “snatches” of hope over the next four days. The doctors were monitoring her scans in the hope that the swelling would abate although they warned him that even if it did the chances were she would suffer “life-changing” long-term effects.

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“The next day, we went back, the next conversation was, that they might have to operate, that there was still time.”

“The consultant phoned me at 2am in the morning to say as far as he was concerned the operation was successful but that the next few hours would be critical.”

The next day, however, Stephen was told there was no real hope. The swelling had spread to the other side of Justine’s brain.

“From then on in, you just go into a strange sensation. I didn’t want to lie to the girls.

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“Their aunt was helping them get the Christmas tree up. I got home and the girls were like ‘Dad look.’ It was heart wrenching and horrible.

“I got a chance to lie with her knowing she was going. I can’t remember whether they turned off her life support or whether she wasn’t coping. I was watching her heart beat go up to 180 and then slowly fall, knowing she was dying in front of me.”

While it is often considered an illness of old age, the number of younger people having strokes is increasing. Around one in five patients are under 65.

“The doctors couldn’t give us any answers,” Stephen says. “She was active, she cycled all the time, she did pilates and yoga. We weren’t heavy drinkers. She had a really healthy diet. It was random.”

Despite his own devastation, his focus in the numb days after her death was his daughters.

“I spoke to people who had lost parents young so that I didn’t make bad choices.” he says. One of the big things that came across was that things had been brushed under the carpet. They weren’t allowed to go to the funeral. That they suffered and grieved for the loss of her mum when she gave birth and I just thought, I don’t want that to happen.

“I was really focused on, ‘we need to keep her memory alive.’ The girls must know, it’s okay not to be okay and that they are allowed to cry.

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“I was keen to make sure they are at the funeral, but if they wanted to bail, they could do that. We had a lovely celebration of Justine’s life at Pollokshields Burgh Hall. I was hovering above it all, but it felt like a wedding. There were lots of children running around. I managed through support and thinking through, the routes that I don’t want to happen.

“I took good advice on how to get the girls supported. The school (Langside Primary) have been amazing. “The first bit of advice, the day after she died, the head teacher said: ‘This will feel wrong but get the kids back in tomorrow, they will want to be normal. If you keep them off, they will just mope around and they will feel your pain.

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“So they went back to school the next day and it was horrible. I walked through the playground in tears and I could see all the other parents in tears. It was really, really hard but it was the best bit of advice ever because they immediately responded.

“Elsa struggled a bit but their teachers made a special effort to give them the support they needed.”

However, while there was help available for his daughters, Stephen says he struggled to access support to adjust to life as a bereaved dad who had not been the primary carer.

“There was nothing really to help me through this,” he says. “There are books out there but I feel I’d like to write something to help mums and dads if you find yourself in my situation where you world is turned upside down and you have this new role.

“Justine was amazing as a mum, she made it look effortless. Now at the other side I’m having to learn those skills. I’ve been really lucky because my company (Stephen works for a major ice-cream firm) has given me the time and space to readjust to being mum and dad.

“I made a huge effort to try to keep everything the same, afterschool clubs, bedtimes. The thing that’s really important is keeping discipline the same. And it’s hard at time because they are pushing boundaries, they are upset and sometimes they even use it as an excuse to get their own way so you have to recognize that. They are doing exceptionally well.”

Stephen says in the shock of Justine’s death the family were not able to organize in time the donation of her organs. He set up a JustGiving page within a week to “give something back” raising more than £6000 in the run up to Christmas for the Stroke Association. On Sunday, September 30, Stephen will take part in the Great Scottish Run half marathon to boost funds.

“Justine was really warm, really considerate, really caring towards people. She taught me a lot about just being a bit less selfless. I just want to continue that for her.”

To sponsor Stephen, go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stephen-kinnairdforjustine

To enter the Great Scottish Run go to www.greatscottishrun.com/