Mum-of-four: “I was dumped after a stroke – but I found love with my personal trainer”
Riona Kelly lost both the use of her legs and her husband within five days, but says she’s now happier than ever
Married with four beautiful M children and a successful career as a teacher, Riona Kelly thought she had it all.
But her world came crashing down when she suffered a rare spinal stroke in March 2015. Not only was she told she’d never walk again, but shockingly her husband asked for a divorce.
However, brave Riona was determined to get her life back on track and hired personal trainer Keith Mason, 35, to help her learn to walk again – and amazingly the couple fell in love.
Riona, who lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire, with Keith and her four children, Leighanra, 16, Caleb, 11, Izabela, nine, and Logan, five, says: “After the stroke I hit rock bottom and felt like giving up – it was only the thought of my children living without a mum that stopped me committing suicide.
“But now I’ve defied doctors by learning to walk again and I’ve finally found true love. Life has never been better.”
Riona had always been healthy until her life changed completely at the age of 34.
She says: “I’d taken the day off work and was at home with my son Logan. I just remember standing at the top of the stairs when suddenly everything turned black. Logan said that I fell from the top to the bottom and he called for help when I didn’t come round.”
Riona recalls: “I woke up in the spinal unit of Pinderfields General Hospital where I was told I’d had a stroke due to a disruption of blood to my spine, meaning I might never walk again. Doctors had absolutely no idea why something like this would have happened. At first I was in shock, but as the news sunk in I felt like my life was over.
“I was absolutely terrified about the future and, if someone had given me the choice, I’d have ended my life.”
Riona suffered another blow when, five days later, her husband asked her for a divorce.
She says: “We’d been having problems for a while.”
However, Riona knew that she had to keep going for the sake of her children and after eight weeks of physio, she amazed everyone by taking her first steps using a standing frame.
She says: “I was stubborn and refused to accept being disabled. In order to walk I had to drag my body as I had no feeling in my legs – but I didn’t care, I was walking and that’s all that mattered. It felt amazing and, even though I was only taking tiny steps, it made me even more determined to learn to walk again properly.
“Every day I built up my strength and after four months in hospital I was finally allowed to go home. It would take me 25 minutes to get up 16 stairs, and the same amount to come back down again. The first time I showered it took me four hours. But I was determined to do it for my children, who were absolutely amazing. They adapted incredibly well and my friend Sarah helped me take care of them.
“I tried to go back to my job, but the doctors told me I had to choose between working and walking, so I gave it up.”
Then in January 2016, as part of her recovery, Riona decided to enlist the help of a personal trainer – and a friend suggested that she get in touch with former rugby player and actor, Keith.
Riona says: “I got on with
❛IT WAS ONLY THE THOUGHT OF MY CHILDREN THAT KEPT ME GOING❜
Keith immediately and he was determined to help me. We did a lot of upper body workouts and ab exercises to strengthen my core and help with walking.
“I only saw Keith two or three times a week for two months but it really made a difference.”
The pair kept in touch and, in October 2016, Keith – who has a daughter, Kalani, five, from a previous relationship – asked Riona out on a date.
She says: “We’d always had a completely professional relationship and I couldn’t believe a gorgeous rugby player like him would want to date a disabled woman like me. But our night out – we went for a Turkish meal – was amazing and I laughed so much.”
The pair quickly grew close and, earlier this year, Keith moved into Riona’s home.
She says: “I was really worried about being romantic with a new man since the incident, but Keith never saw me as disabled. He gave me confidence and we’re intimate like any other couple.”
STRONGER THAN EVER
She adds: “Keith is my best friend. I’m not dependent on him, but he’s always there to help out. He’s been amazing with me and the children and I love him more each and every day.
“Now I only need my wheelchair to go long distances – with Keith’s help I’m getting better and stronger than ever. Nobody can predict if I’ll make a full recovery, but I’ll keep pushing myself.”
And Riona now has high hopes for the future.
She adds: “I’d love to marry Keith one day. I’m also setting up a charity Go Pink for people who are struggling with their disabilities to show them that it’s not the end of the world – you just have to believe in yourself.
“When I had my stroke, I thought that my life was over. But looking back, going through what I did was the best thing to ever happen to me.”