WHEN Roger Foreman suffered a stroke, he didn’t know what had hit him.

He was having a drink with friends at a Wivenhoe pub when suddenly he realised something was horribly wrong.

The 62-year-old had no idea what was going on, but luckily a friend did – and that could have saved his life.

They recognised the tell-tale signs of a stroke and immediately dialled 999.

Mr Foreman was rushed into hospital. He received emergency treatment, but the stroke left him unable to use his left arm or leg.

Two years later he has made an amazing recovery.

His arm works again and he can walk with the aid of a stick, but it could have been much worse.

Experts say the brain ages 3.6 years and loses 120 million brain cells for every hour a stroke is left untreated.

An astonishing 3,400 people are likely to suffer strokes in Essex this year, with experts warning of a sharp rise in the number of cases.

Almost 500 victims were admitted to hospital in the north Essex region last year and the annual figure is expected to reach 580 by 2011.

Strokes are caused when blood is cut off from the brain. Delaying treatment can cause serious brain damage or even death.

Mr Foreman, a former builder who lives in Greenstead, is now backing a three-year Government stroke awareness campaign, which it is hoped will save 700 lives a year in Essex.

The adverts are shocking, but could help to save some of the 67,000 people in the UK who die as a result of suffering a stroke each year. He said: “The more awareness there is, the better. When I visited the stroke centre in Colchester, I was surprised how many people were there.

“Some are only in their 30s. When you’re that age, you think you’re bullet-proof. You would never dream in a million years that you could have a stroke.”

Colchester-based Linda Fox, of the Essex Cardiac and Stroke Network, said it was vital to get stroke victims to hospital as soon as possible.

Stroke is a medical emergency and by calling 999 you can help someone reach hospital quickly and receive the early treatment they need,” she said.

“Prompt action can prevent further damage to the brain and help someone make a full recovery.

Delay can result in death or major long-term disabilities, such as paralysis, severe memory loss and communication problems.”

Experts have devised the FAST Test to help people spot a stroke.

The warning signs should be treated seriously even if they pass after a few minutes.

“That could indicate the victim has suffered a “mini stroke” – something experienced by Mr Foreman before his own full-blown attack.

“It goes away and people think it’s just a funny turn,” said Mrs Fox.

“But 17 per cent of people who have mini-strokes will die within the next three months so if you can catch them, it’s going to save a lot of lives.”