A former solider and dad was told he was having a panic attack before suffering a massive heart attack and stroke, aged just 29.
Ashley Thomas was looking after his five children - including three-month-old daughter Piper - alone at his home in Co Down, Northern Ireland, when he suddenly collapsed on the kitchen floor.
The kids were terrified but too young to call for help and so the chef dragged himself into the living room and sat on the sofa until his partner Trece came home almost three hours later.
Ashley was rushed to Craigavon Area Hospital on Saturday evening, before being transferred for specialist care to the Royal Victoria Hospital, reports Belfast Live.
A scan revealed he had previously suffered a massive heart attack which had blown a hole in his heart, with the resultant blood clot then traveling to his brain - which needed surgery to be removed.
His mum Annette Dunn said her son had been suffering with pains down his arms and chest for three weeks and after calling a hospital was told it was likely a panic attack due to his age.
The 50-year-old barber said when Trece called to say Ashley may have had a stroke she "couldn't believe it", and admitted "we don't know what the future holds".
"Now Trece is left to look after the five young children with no idea if Ashley will ever get home," continued Annette, who was able to see her son once in hospital with visits severely restricted due to the pandemic.
"As his mum I have great faith and I’m praying for a miracle, but we are devastated, just terrified and hurt for him.
"I’ve never felt more sad in my life. My lovely big son, a former soldier, this doting dad to five children and his lovely partner, just lying there unable to move or talk."
Annette said she held Ashley's hand in hospital and told him she loves him but didn't tell him he'd had a stroke "because I couldn't bear to hear the words myself".
She and Trece have estimated he collapsed around 3pm while preparing to feed baby Piper.
He was paralysed down one side but using his good arm managed to get to the living room, with his partner traveling back from her sister's when he didn't answer her calls.
"When she got home she found him in a very bad way," continued Annette.
Eldest child Riley, eight, told Trece what had happened after twins Harper and Blake, four, shouted to him "Daddy's fallen on the floor" and found his dad lying there.
The only word Ashley could say was "Bobo" - meaning baby - and so Riley and Kimmy, six, fed Piper while their dad held her in his functioning arm.
Ashley had effectively lost his job as a chef due to the pandemic and had been working at McDonald's to make ends meet while trying to save money for Christmas.
With mum Annette not currently working due to the barbershop having also closed, she set up a GoFundMe page page to help the family get by.
"Our hearts are broken but we’re not giving up. I just pray that he gets better and makes a recovery to hold his children again and that I get to hold my son again," she said.
"And I’d like to say thanks to anyone who feels able to help us with prayers or donations. We’re going to need all the help we can get."