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Unable to speak, swallow or breathe for herself, she had to be resuscitated more than 20 times as she stopped breathing, turned blue and lost consciousness every couple of days.
“There were so many times when my family thought they’d lost me, and I’d just wake up with everyone around me, wondering what had happened,” remembers Sophie. “It’s a miracle I’m here today.”
Sophie, from Garston, moved viewers to tears with her incredible positivity when she featured on series 4 of BBC2’s Hospital last year.
The episode told her story and captured the moment when, after months of round-the-clock treatment and intensive rehabilitation, she was finally able to speak her first words to her grandad. Staff at the Walton Centre even gave her the nickname Ariel after the Little Mermaid who got her voice back.
Now, as the new series starts, Sophie – who celebrates her 24th birthday this week – is about to take her remarkable recovery one step further.
More than two years after her symptoms began, she’s finally looking forward to being discharged and moving into her own home.
“I’ve accomplished everything I wanted while I was in rehab and I know I’ll keep getting better once I’m discharged,” she says determinedly. “I know I’ll get back to normal life, it’s just going to be a slow process but I’ll get there.”
Sophie’s health nightmare began in January 2018 when she noticed her vision was blurry.
“I assumed that one of my contacts had ripped and I’d be fine once I’d taken them out,” she explains.
When her vision didn’t improve, she put in some eye drops and went to bed, assuming everything would be back to normal when she woke up. “But in the morning, it was worse, my vision was bouncy and my eyes couldn’t focus on anything.”
Her optician referred her to St Paul’s Eye Unit where tests were inconclusive and she was booked in for a CT scan the following week.
But she never made the appointment because within days she was unable to keep food down, her speech became slurred and the right side of her body had a pins and needles sensation.
Not wanting to miss a day of her new job with Redrow Homes, Sophie still asked her grandad to drive her back to work but by the time she arrived her face had started to droop and her boss sent her straight home and on to A&E at the Royal.
At first, doctors thought she’d had a stroke, but MRI scans revealed a lesion on her brain stem. Fearing a tumour, she was transferred to the Walton Centre where she began to deteriorate fast.
“I lost all my mobility and my voice started to go,” Sophie remembers. “My nan stayed with me every single night at the beginning, and one night I was finding it hard to breathe and I couldn’t swallow, then I took a turn for the worse, I started having seizures so they had to intubate me.”
Sophie’s family were given the shocking news that it wasn’t a tumour, but an inflammation on her brain which was spreading, causing her rapid decline.
Even a tracheostomy to help her breathe didn’t stop her from having life-threatening episodes.
“I was on a ventilator for months and I remember being told that I’d even stop breathing while I was on it so they would literally force oxygen into me.”
Sophie reveals there were times when it was touch and go if she would survive.
“The inflammation spread so fast, my family thought they’d lost me a couple of times.”
The treatment that saved her was Alemtuzumab: a type of chemotherapy which wipes out your immune system to reset it and get rid of any inflammation. Sophie had to have it in 2018, February 2019 and she’ll need it again in 2022.
All her family have been a constant support, day and night, she says. “My mum Rebecca, nan Shelley, my nanna and grandad Norman and Marge, who were there every minute, and my sisters and brother have been with me right through all of this.”
It was her grandad who featured in the episode of Hospital as Sophie managed to finally speak again.
“I wasn’t sure about appearing on the show at first but then I realised how much my story could actually help anyone who was going through something similar,” says Sophie. “I was so, so nervous but just thought it was worth it if it helped others.
“I love that my first words spoken to my grandad in just over 10 months were caught on camera. It’s very emotional and so precious to always have that moment to look back on.”
Intensive physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, as well as the support of a psychologist to talk to, has helped Sophie make an extraordinary recovery, regaining her strength and balance, as well as use of her vocal chords.
“I was in Horsley Intensive Care Unit for a year and they helped me get through all the hard times, I call them my Horsley family.
“My speech and language therapist Steph has worked so hard to help me and it’s thanks to her not giving up on me that I’m now drinking and just recently started being able to have pureed food! At one point we never thought this would happen so see where I am now compared to then is absolutely amazing. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
The response after appearing on Hospital helped keep her and her family going.
“My mum still gets asked in work how I’m doing, and it’s really nice that people remember. I’m excited to move onto the next chapter in my life, I’ve got my own place and I aim to get back to work within the next year. The only way is up!”
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