A woman was paralysed from the neck down after she caught a deadly disease on a dream holiday – from a mosquito bite.
Terrified Natasha Porter was confined to a wheelchair for four months and unable to move anything below her neck for three weeks after she was stuck down following the bite.
Natasha, 23, was two weeks into the holiday of a lifetime in Australia when she was ravaged by Guillain-Barré syndrome – a disease where the body attacks its own nervous system.
She first noticed numbness in one toe, but within four days she could barely walk.
Doctors told her the fast-moving paralysis could freeze her diaphragm within hours and that there was a chance she could die.
Natasha watched helplessly as she lost control of her entire body within hours. She was unable to feel her hands, feet or legs – or move anything below the neck.
“Every time I went to sleep at night I wondered if I might not wake up,” said Natasha, from Crawley, West Sussex.
“All I could think was I’m 23 – I don’t want to die.”
The bubbly traveller flew to Western Australia in March 2012 and spent seven months working in a café to save up cash for a jaunt down the east coast.
She began to notice numbness in her toe two weeks after arriving in Cairns. The paralysis then moved to her hands two days later.
Natasha visited a pharmacist who dismissed her symptoms as an allergic reaction and prescribed antihistamines.
But when her arms began to feel so heavy she could not lift them up to brush her hair, worried Natasha consulted a doctor who diagnosed anxiety and stress.
Natasha spent two more days deteriorating on a two-day cruise round the Whitsunday Islands before a concerned couple rushed her to hospital.
Doctors tested her reflexes and found she had none.
Natasha said: “The doctor said he thought it could be Guillain-Barré syndrome. I had never heard of it. The next words he said were ‘I’m worried,” and I was so scared.
“He said it was potentially fatal because it freezes your diaphragm and he said I might need to go on a ventilator really soon.
“I remember feeling guilty because I knew I was going to have to call my parents. I was thinking, how do I call them up and say I might be dead in a few hours?
“I was thinking I just don’t want to die, I’m only just beginning to live.”
Natasha’s dad Joe, a taxi driver, flew out to join his worried daughter, and called out mum Sue, a college lecturer, when it became clear she was very poorly.
It was just the beginning of the disease which robbed Natasha of all her independence, and within two days she could not move anything but her head.
She said: “I was trying to wiggle my toe and I was staring at it knowing it should move but it wouldn’t.
“I couldn’t do anything, it was awful. To go from being so independent to not being able to go to the loo, pull up your own knickers, lift up your own leg. I had to ask to be turned over in bed. It was depressing.
“There was a constant burning. It was incredible. I can’t describe the pain.”
But thanks to Natasha’s determination – and a lot of physiotherapy – she was able to regain her independence one tiny movement at a time.
Within three weeks she was able to move both her arms a few centimetres, and six weeks after she was paralysed she stood up for a few seconds with the help of three nurses. But walking was a very different ball game.
She added: “People were saying, ‘bend your legs, straighten your back, tuck you tummy in,’ but it was so strange as I just had no idea how to do it.
“The first time I was able to move for five seconds I remember just yelling and everyone started applauding.”
In November Natasha was flown back home accompanied by two nurses, and reunited with brother Jack, 27, and sister Shelley, 25.
Aussie health authorities have an agreement with the NHS to cover the costs of poorly UK visitors, so Natasha was not lumbered with a six-figure hospital bill, and her insurance paid her parent’s #9,000 hotel costs.
By the New Year she was able to take short trips away from her wheelchair and by the end of January she went out dancing with her friends for the first time.
In March she began work as an admin assistant, and the hardy survivor is planning to finish the round the world trip she began and climb to Everest base camp with boyfriend Tom Kelly as soon as the pair raise the funds.
Medics will never know for certain what causes the disease.
Her blood tested positive for viruses carried by mosquitoes – a common cause of the syndrome – but it can also be caused by any immunisation.
Natasha had a rabies jab just two weeks before she fell ill.
She added: “I don’t want to waste anytime anymore and I hope I have become a better person,” she said.
“I just want to live as much as I can, spend as much time with my friends and family, just enjoying my life.”
* Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare and serious condition which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.
The exact cause is unknown but around 60 per cent of sufferers develop it when bacteria or a virus enters the body and triggers the immune system to attack nerves.
This causes the nerves to become inflamed and stop working and in some cases makes the body numb.
It can prove fatal but around 80 per cent of suffers make a full recovery after several weeks in hospital although some take a year or more to fully recover.
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