Will Folk and Holly Harrison’s lives were full and their future was shiny. The two were busily building their careers, setting up a new apartment and planning their wedding.

Those plans did not include stroke.

But it happened. On Valentine’s Day 2013, Harrison collapsed on the bathroom floor at work from a hemorrhagic stroke.

She fought for her life and wedding plans seemed trivial. In and out of a medically induced coma for 17 days, doctors gave her a 20 percent chance to survive.

Folk and his father camped out in the hospital waiting room, praying that Harrison would beat the odds.

Miraculously, she did. Filled with relief and gratitude for her survival, Folk buckled down for a challenging road to recovery as his fiance’s caregiver.

Harrison had to relearn everyday things, such as brushing her teeth, getting dressed, putting her earrings in.

When she got out of the hospital, Folk worked to make sure everything was calm. He helped her build a routine.

“I was there to make sure she didn’t try to do anything that was too quick. At times it was tough to play the caretaker role versus the significant other,” he said.

He found the hardest part was stepping back as she relearned daily tasks, occasionally getting frustrated with the process.

“I had to let her fail for a while and not step in,” Folk said. “Eventually I would step in if she couldn’t get it. I had to let her do her own thing and be supportive by letting her do tasks on her own.”

Putting her stud earrings in by herself was a huge victory.

“She couldn’t do it for so long. Now we look back on it, and realize she’s come a long way,” Folk said.

For many people faced with being a caregiver, the change of roles is a source of stress for the caregiver and the patient.

“I’ve had to teach myself a lot of patience,” Folk said. “What sometimes may be simple for me, isn’t as easy as it used to be with her. Try to have patience with yourself and the person you are caring for. It’s tough to put a timeframe on their recovery.”

When Folk needed a break, he leaned on friends and family to help out so he could get out of the house.

“It helped Holly, too. She needed a break from me.”

A little more than a year later, Harrison has made tremendous progress in her recovery. Although their wedding fund was depleted to pay medical bills, they did get married recently onboard the American Heart Association and Princess Cruises “Cruise for a Cause.”

Now they are focusing on building a new, different life for themselves. Through the experience, their relationship was tested – and strengthened.

“Not only has Will proven to me that he will certainly be by my side for better or worse, but he has showed me what true love is,” Harrison said. “I couldn’t imagine my life without him and know I certainly wouldn’t have gotten through a very hard time in my life without his faithful, loving, genuine, selfless support.”

For Folk, the experience taught him patience and gratitude.

“Cherish the moments that you have,” he said. “Don’t take anything for granted. It can be taken away from you that quickly.”

For more information:

[portfolio_slideshow id=10140]