Watch as young woman learns to walk again after she was left paralysed from the neck down – by a common winter cold.
When Laura Clarke, 21, visited the doctor with a sore throat she thought a few days in bed was all she needed to get better.
But medics found an abscess on her tonsil which had to be removed through surgery. Miss Clarke was put on steroid medication to help her recovery.
The journalism student, at Nottingham University, was stunned as she lost the use of her legs and hands. Within 24 hours she was paralysed from the neck down.
Doctors were baffled by the condition and a devastated Miss Clarke was confined to a wheelchair.
She said: “I was 20 years old and there I was, stuck in a wheelchair and in need of constant care. I thought I was going to be like this for the rest of my life. I was terrified.”
Miss Clarke first visited her GP in February 2014 when she could not shake her winter cold. The doctor diagnosed her with tonsillitis put her on a course of antibiotics.
Within a week her health had deteriorated to the point where she could not even open her mouth. She visited an NHS drop-in centre where a medic immediately called an ambulance which rushed her to Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.
A scan revealed a quinsy abscess on her tonsils which was putting pressure on her carotid artery, which provides the head and neck with blood.
On Valentine’s Day surgeons successfully removed the growth and Miss Clarke was put on steroids to help her recover and stop the swelling.
Despite the medication her muscles got steadily weaker.
She said: “I couldn’t walk properly – on the ward they nicknamed me Bambi.
“The day after the operation I asked the nurse for assistance, she tried to help me out of bed and I collapsed as soon as I stood up. I couldn’t feel my legs at all – it was the worst moment of my life.
“The paralysis spread to every muscle in my body. I couldn’t breath or talk. Within 24 hours I became like a vegetable. I thought I was going to die.”
Eventually Miss Clarke was stabilised and discharged from hospital. Doctors hoped she would regain full mobility once she had recovered from her operation.
Miss Clarke said: “I was brought home in a wheelchair. My mum had to look after me and dad had to carry me upstairs and to the toilet.
“I broke down crying to my dad – I told him I did not want to be stuck like that forever. I couldn’t do anything myself, I couldn’t eat or drink without assistance and I needed constant care.”
A rash appeared on her skin which gave a clue as to the effect of the steroids on her body. She was diagnosed with acute corticosteroid induced myopathy – an extremely rare condition which causes steroids to break down muscle tissue.
Miss Clarke was taken off the medication and began physiotherapy to help rebuild her muscles.
Doctors estimate it would take a year or two for Miss Clarke to learn to walk again.
She said: “I couldn’t face the idea of being in a wheelchair for two years. I was determined to walk. I said to myself that I was going to do this – despite the pain.”
Incredibly, the determined paraplegic managed to walk again in just six weeks – in time for a skiing holiday in the Alps.
Her journey to recovery was captured in a video which shows her taking her shaky first steps.
Miss Clarke said: “My dad had booked a skiing holiday before I fell ill and I was devastated that I would have to miss it.
“It was agony at first. I had lost two-and-a-half stone in muscle so my bones were scraping against each other.
“I kept trying every day, inside and outside, with and without crutches.
“It was hard to improve so I started filming myself walking every day so I could watch my progress.”
Six weeks after beginning physio Miss Clarke flew to the Alps in France and successfully skied down a mountain.
She said: “I said goodbye to my life in a wheelchair at the top of a mountain. I buried my crutches in the snow.
“The physio had told me it was impossible for me to build up enough strength to ski – but I managed it.
“I don’t think anything can top the feeling I felt standing at the top of a mountain with my mum and dad.”
The brave student also managed to run a half marathon in 2 hours and 38 minutes in October – she raised £1,000 for a muscular dystrophy charity.
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