Written on March 20, 2011 by Sebastian Cimitiere
Doctors dismissed teenager’s condition as flu and accused her of attention-seeking
A teenager who was left paralysed and on a life support machine after she was stricken with an immune disorder, has made an amazing recovery.
Rachel Attridge, 17, was unable to move, speak or eat for four months, after she was struck with Guillain-Barre Syndrome – a rare disease where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system by mistake.
Recovery: Rachel says she is improving every day and is simply glad she is no longer trapped in her body
The teenager first realised something was wrong when she began vomiting and suffered severe aches and pains throughout her body.
She rapidly tired and started to lose control of her muscles.
After dashing to Scarborough Hospital, doctors dismissed her symptoms as the flu and told her to go home, get some rest and take painkillers.
But on her way out Rachel fainted from the pain brought on by the damaged nerve endings – which occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the nervous system.
Astonishingly, despite her worsening condition, two more doctors dismissed her pleas for help – with one even suggesting it was down to her being pregnant.
Rachel said another doctor suggested that she might simply have been attention seeking.
The terrified youngster ended up paralysed from the waist down and her mother Lynn resorted to driving her 80 miles from their Bridlington home to Hull Royal Infirmary.
She was immediately diagnosed with a rare variant of the syndrome, which is characterised by abnormal muscle coordination and paralysis.
Unable to walk: The rare syndrome damages nerve endings, which impairs movement
Her condition had been left untreated for so long she was hooked straight up to a life support machine by Neurology consultants.
She remained there unable to move for four months.
While keeping a constant vigil at her daughter’s bedside, Lynn watched as Rachel slowly began to lose the will to live.
The teenager, who shed three-and-a-half stone during the ordeal, said: ‘At my lowest point I decided I wanted the machine switched off.
‘I just thought, ‘This is it, I am not going to get any better’.
‘When I was on life support, I knew everything that was happening around me but I couldn’t move or shout – I couldn’t even speak.
‘I simply wanted to die.’
Lynn, 46, added: ‘They resuscitated her a couple of times.
‘She was on morphine and so many drugs. You couldn’t even touch her. If you touched her, she would be screaming in pain.
‘Rachel was completely paralysed for four months, with a ventilator keeping her alive.
‘She was tube-fed through her nose and had to have everything done for her.
‘If we had not got her to hospital when we did, she would have died in my arms at home. It has been sheer hell, to be perfectly honest.’
But following a lengthy period of rehabilitation, Rachel is finally regaining her strength.
Life support: Rachel was left unable to breathe for herself and was worried she would never move again
Lynn said doctors told her they were ’99.9 per cent sure’ Rachel’s illness had been triggered by the human papillomavirus vaccine injection.
But health officials have insisted there is no proven link between the HPV vaccination and the immune disorder.
An NHS spokesman said a thorough investigation led by a clinical governance practitioner was carried out last year following concerns raised by Lynn.
He said: ‘At least four million doses of Cervarix have been given to girls in the UK and there is no evidence that the vaccine has increased the frequency of GBS above that expected to occur naturally in the population.
‘However, we are very pleased to hear of Rachel’s recovery.’
Now, one year since her battle against the life-threatening illness began, Rachel has returned to college to finish her childcare course and take a big step towards landing her dream job.
Rachel said: ‘I’m glad it’s all over. I’ve been told it may take three years for the nerve endings that were damaged to fully recover.
‘ut I’m simply happy not to be trapped in my own body missing out on everything like birthdays and hanging out with friends.
‘I wouldn’t want any other person to suffer the issues I had had to go through over the past year.
‘But I’m getting better and better everyday, loving life again and looking forward to completing my studies and doing what I love most.’