When Paul Westerman hurt his knee playing tennis and ended up on crutches, his fiancé Ellisa was slightly anxious about how this would impact on the small, intimate wedding the couple had planned just weeks later.
Little did she know that watching him hobble down the aisle would have been a blessing compared to the situation they found themselves in just days before they were due to tie the knot.
“After his tennis injury we were thinking ‘what else could possibly go wrong?’” she said. “As it turns out, quite a lot could.
“I spent our wedding day – my 47th birthday – sat on my parent’s memorial bench near the hospital crying with no real effort to stop while the man I loved was desperately ill.”
Paul had been rushed to hospital after collapsing in the couple’s bathroom.
“He had felt unusually tired the night before,” said Ellisa. “But we were up quite early, chatting as usual, as he went into the ensuite. A few moments later, he opened the door. He looked a ghastly white.”
Paul collapsed backwards, hitting his head on the sink.
“I ran to him and I shook him and for a moment he opened his eyes and looked wildly round, then went out again,” she said. “I was shaking him and shouting at him and crying in panic ‘don’t leave me, stay with me!’ It was surreal, but I remember every moment vividly.”
Paul had suffered a massive pulmonary embolism.
“The rest of the day was a blur of scans, injections, wires, monitors, oxygen mask and then the quiet of the ICU,” said Ellisa. “The nurse offered me a bed for the night. I went home, not understanding that she was really saying – stay, you might need to be here tonight.
“You actually need someone to be blunt with you in these circumstances, because reality doesn’t sink in. I walked home in the dark and when I got there, I hugged my daughter and cried and cried.”
Paul spent a week in ICU. A blood clot the size of a man’s thumb had travelled up through the deep veins in his leg, through his heart and into the blood vessels in his lungs.
“The wedding had to be cancelled,” said Ellisa. “I tried to keep up with Paul’s work contacts, assuming he would be back to business soon. He was not!”
Over the following months, Paul started to recover. But Ellisa said the impact on him – and her – was far-reaching.
“The physical recovery was long and painful, but we did not understand how the event would affect his mental health – or those around him,” she said. “I am grateful every day that Paul is still with me, but I know that sometimes he wished he hadn’t woken up again on that day.
“Watching someone you care about going through that level of mental anguish is a terrible thing – you feel helpless and inadequate, because you can’t do anything.”
Paul suffered from PTSD and underwent CBT.
“He’s had to fight to find himself again and like many survivors, he’s had to come to terms with what he’s lost – not only his physical strength or his ability to do his job, but his sense of self,” said Ellisa.
“Those nearest to him have had to do the same.
“Eight years on from the PE, thrombosis is still a daily reality for us. Paul has done some amazing things and I have followed along behind, in awe of his ability to engage other people in the conversation about thrombosis.
“I’ve accompanied him to pick up cheques from bereaved families for Thrombosis UK and known this could have been me.
“Sometimes people say things happen for a reason. I don’t know about that, but I do know that the only way forward is to find the positives and to try and change things.
“I am risking cliché here, but I never take life for granted. I am so grateful for our time together and enjoy each day as it comes for what it is.”