A former soldier was left paralysed from the neck down – after catching a cold.
Father-of-two Steve Mawer was super-fit and healthy and had been training to take on a 100-mile charity bike ride when he began to feel unwell.
But within days, the 55-year-old was almost completely paralysed, and was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare and potentially life-threatening condition of the nervous system.
Nine months later Steve is thankfully on the road to recovery after re-learning how to walk, and is determined to complete the cycle challenge.
The welfare officer, who lives at Fulwood Barracks, Preston, Lancs., is speaking out in a bid to raise awareness of the condition.
Recalling his terrifying experience, he said: “Training was going well, and one day I developed a normal cold.
“I carried on training but I increasingly felt tired all the time and started getting tingling in my fingers.”
The symptoms began at the end of March this year, and progressively got worse and Steve went to the doctor and the hospital.
However, in A&E he was told he had a virus, and was advised to return to his GP the following day.
But the next day he woke up completely numb and was sent straight to Royal Preston Hospital where he was assessed and diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
He remembers: “The doctor said what you’ve got is life-threatening, we need to get you onto a ward very quickly.
“They took me to a ward, I was quickly put on a bed and within just a few hours I got up to go to the toilet and found I couldn’t walk any more – my legs had stopped working.”
He became increasingly paralysed and says: “At one stage I was paralysed pretty much except for the eyes and my voice, and even then I had double vision.
“I even lost my voice for a couple of days – my larynx was paralysed and I was completely dependent on staff and my family.”
Steve said: “I couldn’t sleep, because I didn’t feel safe sleeping at night.”
Thankfully, a course of the treatment was successful and, within hours, Steve began to regain some sensation in his left hand.
Within three days he was able to move his left arm.
Steve was supported through the ordeal by wife Janette and sons Michael, 28 and Kieran, 22, who he describes as his “wing man”.
He says being unable to eat or drink was one of the worst elements of his experience, and Kieran made a hydration pack for Steve to be able to drink from.
As soon as he was able to begin his rehabilitation he says he “took the bull by the horns”, and has praised hospital staff for their “outstanding” care.
He says: “I was in there for six months, pretty much learning how to walk and talk.
“I was assigned to the physio team, speech and language therapists, nutritionists, and I got a programme of recovery.”
Steve describes his experience as “quite frightening”, but says: “Because of my previous work and being in the army, I think that put me in good stead.
“I’m a strong-minded person and on my recovery notes it said I was fiercely independent, which is why I recovered so quickly.
“Everything they gave me, I enhanced by doing my own fitness and recovery.
“I said I want to get up and walk out of here.”
Steve smashed all his recovery targets, and was able to begin a gradual return to work in November.
He is hoping to make a full recovery over the coming months, and will be assessed for any lasting symptoms next year.
He also says his GP is to thank for spotting the symptoms when she did, and telling him to go to hospital.
He says: “I was 15-and-a-half stone when I went into hospital, a powerful man, I went to the gym three times a week, I would ride a bike 50 miles and wouldn’t think anything of it.
“But I lost three stone within a month of being in hospital and most of that was muscle.
“The first time I saw myself naked I looked down at myself and didn’t recognise my body – it had completely wasted away.
“That was the kick-off for me, I thought I worked hard for those muscles and I want to get them back.”
He says: “When I stood, it brought a tear to my eyes because I didn’t think I would be standing again.”
His progress continued and he slowly began walking again, taking a few steps.
He says: “It was overwhelming – I thought I was permanently paralysed.”
Although Steve is still recovering, his goal now is to complete his 100-mile bike ride next summer.
The charity ride will begin in Barrow, around the coast and finish at Fleetwood lifeboat station.