Riona Kelly was married with children when her relationship dissolved and her husband left. And around the time of the break-up, her health also took a drastic turn for the worse, which led to hospitalization. Despite doctors’ low expectations, though, Kelly fought through hardships to defy the odds, and now her fortunes have improved.
Kelly comes from Halifax in Yorkshire, England, where she lived with her husband once upon a time. During their 14 years of marriage, the couple had four children together, who at the time of Kelly’s interview were aged five to 16. Logan is their youngest, followed by nine-year-old Izabela, Caleb, 11, and last but not least their eldest child, Leighanra.
Despite the length of their relationship, it’s safe to say that Kelly and her spouse Richard had been through some turbulent times. Indeed, Kelly admitted as much herself. “Looking back I was miserable in my marriage,” she told the Daily Mirror in August 2017. “But we had built a life together and had responsibilities.”
In addition to their emotional ups and downs, Kelly also suffered from physical challenges. To be more specific, a year and a half prior to her separation from Richard, the mother-of-four experienced a car accident. This wasn’t the worst physical trauma to befall Kelly, though. That occurred in March 2015 when she suffered a spinal stroke.
For those who don’t know, a stroke is a condition that the Stroke Association (SA) website describes as a “brain attack.” They happen on occasions when the human brain is deprived of blood, such as if something diverts its flow. As a result, parts of the brain malfunction or die, causing severe damage as a consequence.
“The effects of a stroke depend on where it takes place in the brain,” SA explains, “and how big the damaged area is.” Common symptoms include vision loss in a single eye and the inability to speak or comprehend things. A lack of sensation in one half of the body is another early warning sign.
There’s not just one type of stroke, either. SA describes three different kinds of brain attack, in fact. The first is called an ischaemic stroke, which results from an artery blockage. The second kind – a haemorrhagic stroke – happens when the brain or a surrounding area bleeds. The third is a transient ischaemic attack (TIA).
Temporary blockages to the brain cause TIAs, but they generally have shorter-term effects. For this reason, experts refer to them as mini-strokes. On a related note, the amount of damage a stroke inflicts depends on how quickly it’s treated. Therefore, it’s crucial that the condition’s detected as rapidly as possible.
With this in mind, there have been various campaigns to raise the public’s understanding of strokes and their symptoms. Take the National Stroke Awareness Month (NSAM), for instance, which comes around every May. It actually began when President George H. W. Bush issued a policy in 1989 declaring it an annual event. Moreover, several organizations unite to endorse NSAM.
Indeed, the National Stroke Association, American Heart Foundation, the U.S. Government and a multitude of other charities all support NSAM. One compelling reason for these efforts raise awareness is because of a stroke treatment called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This drug destroys blood clots formed during strokes, but it comes with a caveat.
Specifically, tPA is only effective up to a few hours after a clot forms, making stroke identification paramount. It’s actually not hyperbolic, in fact, to suggest that detection of brain attacks is a matter of life and death. The condition can and does kill. Indeed, according to Medical News Today, strokes take 800,000 American lives annually.
As a result, stroke experts in the United Kingdom compiled a mnemonic called FAST. And other countries – including the U.S. – have since adopted it as well. FAST stands for Facial droop, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and, if these things occur, it’s Time to call emergency services. What’s more, although strokes are associated with older people, they can afflict anyone.
It’s true that age increases stroke risk, however. Since arteries are more constricted in older people, they are thus more prone to clotting. On the other hand, factors such as diet, lifestyle, family and medical history can also increase the risk. In Kelly’s case, doctors suspected her car accident was the cause of her spinal stroke.
“But other than that, I was a fit and healthy woman,” Kelly recalled, “And there was no other reason why this would happen.” She described how the stroke hit at a terrible time. “I was at home one day with Logan, I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I fell down a complete flight of stairs,” she explained.
“Logan had to call for help,” Kelly said. Thanks to her youngest son, rescuers transported Kelly to hospital, but by then stroke had already damaged her body. In fact, it paralyzed her below the waist. While she began to recover from that, Kelly’s emotions took an additional blow, too. This time, though, it was because of her relationship with her partner.
Both Kelly and her then-husband Richard have differing stories about how and when their relationship officially ended. According to various news sources, Kelly stated that Richard asked for a divorce five days after the stroke. Richard, on the other hand, claims that their marriage broke up just prior to the incident.
“I told Riona I wanted a divorce the morning before her stroke, not whilst she was in hospital,” Richard said. “Whilst she was in hospital, I visited as much as I could of an evening. I had to take care of the children, look after the house and run a business.”
Whatever the truth behind the situation, one thing’s for sure: Kelly felt abandoned. “After suffering a stroke, not only did I have to deal with paralysis, but I had to deal with losing my partner of 14 years,” she explained. “After he asked me for a divorce, I was left completely alone.”
“It was the time I needed my husband the most,” Kelly continued. The blows kept coming, though, and doctors had worse news for their patient. In fact, Kelly’s physicians informed her it would take six weeks before she could take her first post-accident steps. Until then, she would be confined to a wheelchair.
Understandably, Kelly found her new way of life hard and became very self-conscious. “The first time I went out in a wheelchair, I thought everyone was looking at me,” she revealed. “I hated it and hated myself. If someone had given me the choice, I would have ended my life, I didn’t want to live anymore.”
As a result, Kelly eagerly awaited the day when she could literally get back on her feet again. Despite her best efforts, though, she still couldn’t walk when her six-week review period came around. “It was at this point that doctors told me I would never walk again,” Kelly said.
The news must have been devastating for Kelly, but she refused to accept it as fact for one reason. “I was determined to do it for my children,” Kelly explained. And it turned out that she wouldn’t be facing the stroke’s aftermath by herself as she’d initially assumed. She actually had several people in her life rooting for her success.
“After my husband left me in hospital, my friend Sarah became my next of kin,” Kelly recalled. “It was her and the children that supported me during my recovery. But the other patients on the ward were amazing. I received so much support from them, and they encouraged me to get out of bed every day.”
So Kelly worked hard to bolster her strength with physiotherapy and prove the doctors wrong. Then, two weeks after receiving the prognosis about her limited mobility, the determined patient’s efforts paid off. Kelly managed to move her legs again and, with the help of a parallel bar, made some tentative steps.
Kelly subsequently described the moment it happened to the media. “I was dragging my body and I had no feeling in my legs, but I didn’t care,” she said. “I was walking, and that’s all that mattered. My consultant was very emotional. He couldn’t believe I had done it with the help of a standing frame.”
As a result of her hard work, it wasn’t too long before physicians released Kelly. “Every day, I built up my strength,” she revealed. “And after four months in hospital, I was finally allowed to go home.” It wasn’t easy, though. Indeed, Kelly said it was tough for her just to get down some steps.
After posting a request for guidance on Facebook, some of Kelly’s friends pointed her in the direction of Keith Mason. If the name sounds familiar to you, that’s because Mason’s been in the limelight before. In fact, he’s not only been an actor but also spent 14 years as a rugby player.
Mason, now 35, lent his talents to four different professional Super League teams during his career, playing for Castleford Tigers, St. Helens, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Huddersfield Giants. In addition, Mason has also won several awards, including the Giants’ Man of Steel Award. He retired from rugby in 2013.
Initially, Kelly and Mason struck up a professional relationship as he helped her recover physically. But they developed a deeper connection over time, which endured beyond Kelly’s training. “After our sessions, Keith and I stayed in contact,” she explained. “He would ask me how I was getting on, and our relationship blossomed from there.”
“We have now been together for 11 months. The children really like him,” Kelly continued. Her Instagram account describes how Mason supports her on an emotional level, too, even during her darkest moments. “I don’t enjoy being paralyzed one bit,” Kelly added. “It’s bloody hard! I miss being able-bodied.”
“I miss running around with my kids and doing things on the spur of the moment,” Kelly went on. “Feeling warmth on my legs, splashing in puddles with my kids and feeling the water bounce off my skin. I really miss having the full use of my legs… silly little things that most of us take for granted.”
Whenever Kelly’s felt down, though, Mason has been around to raise her spirits back up. She said, “As I lay crying, my loving partner just held me and told me how much I inspired him, how much he loved me and that it’s okay to feel frustrated and to cry.”
“He reassured me that he was there for me and how much I meant to him,” Kelly explained. It would seem like the pair are perfect for each other, then, and they certainly seem to concur. For his part, Mason thinks that Kelly is the inspirational one in their relationship.
“Keith says I inspire him,” Kelly revealed. “But he encourages me every day and understands and sees the pain that I am in. He has been amazing with me and the children, and I love him more each and every day.” The recovering mother-of-four has also described how her accident has opened new doors for her.
To begin with, she’s finished two marathons using her wheelchair for support, but that’s just the start. She’s also accepted an offer to appear in a TV commercial and joined the Models of Diversity organization. This group acknowledges the need for different body types, ages, ethnicities and disabilities in the modelling world.
Kelly’s mobility had improved a lot since her accident, so for a while she no longer relied solely on her wheelchair. “I now only need my wheelchair to go long distances,” she stated. “But my home hasn’t been adapted, so I try not use it.” Unfortunately, though, she suffered another setback in 2018.
“Last night an unfortunate event happened,” Mason wrote on Kelly’s Instagram page in December 2018. “My partner suffered a stroke; I’m gutted and heartbroken… But I’m going to stay strong for my lady as I’ve always done. Riona is in a stable condition.” Mason proved true to his word and stuck by his partner in her time of need.
With the support of her family, Kelly healed enough to return home in time for Mason’s birthday. She even uploaded a behind-the-scenes video from a documentary she’s working on called Driving Force. The footage, which is evidence of her rapid recovery, shows her kicking a bucket with significant force.
At least this time around, Kelly knows she’s not doing all her fighting by herself. She has Mason and her children by her side, in the good times and the bad. “For a long time, I was a queen fighting alone,” Kelly said. “But now I’m not fighting alone any more. The queen has found a king.”