Superfit Karrie Houghton’s life changed overnight when she was struck with a rare illness that left her paralysed. RACHEL HURST finds out about her battle back to health
“I went to see the on-call GP on Thursday night, by Sunday, I couldn’t walk.”
Being struck down by a paralysing illness turned fitness fanatic Karrie Houghton’s world upside down.
For someone so active in her “normal” life, keen on running and figure skating, the development of a rare and serious condition came out of the blue.
The 21-year-old, from Hoghton near Preston, was on a work placement for her studies in nursing at UClan in November last year when she picked up a “bit of a virus”.
“I thought I had recovered from it then I had the most horrendous back pain and shooting pains down my legs,” she said. “I had tingling in my lips, face, tongue, feet and I couldn’t event lift my arms up in the shower to wash my hair.”
Karrie was admitted to the Royal Preston Hospital suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, where the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system.
Two days later she was paralysed.
“I couldn’t move from my chest down,” says Karrie. “My heart would keep stopping randomly as the nerves that controlled my heart rate became damaged so I was fitted with a pacemaker.
“My ability to swallow was affected too so I was fed via tube because I would have choked if I’d have tried to eat and when the muscles that allowed me to breathe were affected, I was transferred to ICU.”
After four weeks, Karrie left ICU and went back to the ward where her mum, Vicky Baker, helped with her intensive physiotherapy.
“My mum would move my legs for me to try and help me build up the muscle again because I was determined I would get to go home on Christmas Day,” says Karrie.
The day before Christmas Eve, Karrie managed to slide herself into a wheelchair by herself which meant, for just one day, she could spend some quality time with her family outside of the hospital walls.
“I actually cried because I was so happy I could go home and even though I was back in the hospital that night I was just so happy I’d gone home because the doctors told me it wasn’t going to be possible.”
As part of her rehabilitation, Karrie’s nurses set her the task of listing down achievable goals to keep her focussed during her stay in hospital.
“My short term goals were to go home and try and eat a meal without chucking food everywhere,” adds Karrie.
“Long term, I wanted to run the Manchester 10k.”
Now, to raise money for the Guillain-Barré and Associated Inflammatory Neuropathies (GAIN) charity and the MS society, Karrie is planning a year long list of events, starting with the Preston 10km run this September as well as a walk up Ben Nevis, the ’Mudderella’ obstacle course, The BUPA Great North Run and, the Manchester 10k.
“I had lost over two stone in hospital and most of the muscle in my legs and core had wasted away but by New Year I took my first few steps after three months in bed and in January I was finally discharged from hospital,” says Karrie
“I went back to swimming and ice skating and running and am feeling about 95 per cent back to normal, I’ve just got the little five per cent to go.
“My grandad kept a log of all the time I was in hospital and it’s pretty scary to read about what happened when I wasn’t fully aware but now I’m looking forward to getting back to studying.
“Though I had to miss out on my second year, I feel like what happened to me has given me a different perspective – now I know how it feels to be the patient.”
n You can sponsor Karrie in her pursuits by visiting her Virgin Money Giving page at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Karriehoughton.
You can also follow her progress via her Twitter account: @Karriehoughton.
* The frightening Gullian-Barré syndrome explained
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare and serious condition of the peripheral nervous system that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system.
The exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown. However,around 60 per cent of people develop the condition shortly after having a viral or bacterial infection. It is thought infection may trigger the immune system to attack nerve roots and peripheral nerves. The symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome usually develop one to three weeks after a minor infection, such as a cold, sore throat or gastroenteritis and symptoms often start in your feet and hands before spreading to your arms and then your legs.