Amanda Craig has undergone a multitude of major medical treatments over the last few years to save her life and limbs, after first surviving being brutally savaged by a dog and then later brought back from the brink of paralysis with risky surgery after being diagnosed with spine degeneration.
Courageous mum Amanda talks to AASMA DAY about her amazing recovery and how she will be running a half marathon this weekend for a spinal charity.
My spinal cord was compressed to such a degree, it was disfunctioning so messages weren’t getting through to the brain.
With her positive attitude and calm demeanour, Amanda Craig seems the kind of woman to take everything in her stride.
However, Amanda’s elegant appearance and genial smile hides the fact she has undergone a multitude of major medical treatments to save her life and limbs.
Look closely at Amanda’s arm and you can see the scars left from when a dog ripped off a massive chunk of flesh from her arm as she walked past it on a pavement.
And a slight scar along the fold of Amanda’s neck is the only sign of the extensive operation Amanda underwent recently after suddenly being diagnosed with a condition which was compressing her spinal cord.
If the condition had been allowed to progress, it would have led to permanent paralysis or even death.
However, the surgery to delay the progression held substantial risks including paralysis and losing feeling in all four limbs.
Amanda was on the brink of becoming paralysed when she underwent the day-long operation at Royal Preston Hospital.
The surgery involved moving the jugular artery in Amanda’s neck, removing discs and rebuilding her cervicular spine with spacers, screws and titanium plates as well as inserting donor bone and screws in her neck.
Despite the extreme ordeals her body has been through, Amanda considers herself to be “lucky” and reveals running has always been her saviour to help her through difficult times.
Amanda, 43, who lives in Kilngate, Walton Park, near Preston, says: “I have been re-built by the NHS both after the dog attack and after being diagnosed with the condition affecting my spine.
“It was a no-win situation as if I’d left the condition and stayed as I was, I was going to end up paralysed in a wheelchair.
“But the surgery itself was very risky and at first, I was too scared to go through with it and buried my head and tried to carry on.
“However, I got to the point where I was on the verge of being paralysed with the prospect of no return and had almost lost all the strength in my legs.
“Luckily, the surgery was a success. Although there is no cure for the condition, the progression and symptoms have been delayed.
“I am lucky as I can get on with my life. The outcome would have been very different if I hadn’t had this surgery.”
Amanda, who is married to Andrew and has three children, two step-children and a grandson, was mauled by a German Shepherd four years ago as she walked past it on the pavement after going on a run.
Amanda, who works as a cook at the Museum of Lancashire, recalls: “I’d been on a run and decided to go to a nearby Spar shop on my way home.
“As I walked past a group of dog owners with their pets, this German Shepherd just jumped on me, grabbed my arm and savaged me.”
Amanda’s arm had flesh ripped from the elbow down. The injuries were so severe, her bone was exposed.
Amanda remembers: “The pain was excruciating and the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Amanda had multiple operations including skin grafts from her leg to re-build her arm. She had to have 18 months of treatment following the attack.
The dog was destroyed and the case went to trial. The owner was found guilty of having a dangerously out of control dog and allowing that dog to injure someone.
Amanda, who has pet Shih Tzu dogs herself, admits the ordeal left her with a psychological fear of dogs and for a long time, she avoided going anywhere she might come in contact with the animals.
Amanda explains: “After recovering from the dog attack, I started getting back on with my life and running again. But it took me a while to get there.
“I developed a fear of going anywhere there might be dogs including parks and the vets.
“If I saw a dog, I would cross over the road and I changed my routes and avoided walking through estates as there were too many dogs loose in the garden.
“Instead of running through parks like I used to, I ran on the road.
“I would run home the long way round from Avenham Park rather than going through the park just so I could avoid dogs.
“I finally decided to confront my fears and force myself to run through the park.
“The first time I ran through the park after the dog attack, I remember running home as quickly as possible and my heart was racing.
“But gradually, I faced my fears and now, if I know the dog owner, I will actually stroke a German Shepherd.
“I still have a fear of dogs, especially strange ones and I won’t take a risk.
“However, there are lots of trustful and good dog owners out there who know their dogs.
“You can’t tarnish every dog and every dog owner.
“Just like there are bad people in the world, there are bad dogs. But there are more good than bad.”
Amanda managed to move on and carry on with her life after the dog attack.
However, at the beginning of last year, she began experiencing problems with her legs and having health issues.
Amanda recalls: “One of the first signs was tingles in my legs, face and head which felt like electrical zaps.
“At first, I didn’t take much notice as they didn’t happen very often. But by the end, they were happening around 15 times a day.
“I then started noticing my running style was changing. I kept tripping up and catching my feet and I noticed my feet were quite numb.
“When I was running, I was putting my feet down differently. I wasn’t running equally and was wearing one trainer out.
“I also noticed I was slowing down when running and when I tried to speed up, my co-ordination didn’t seem to work. I would end up running on the spot instead of moving forwards.
“On the last bike ride I went on, I realised I was having trouble pushing the pedals down and going uphill.”
Amanda went to see a doctor with her symptoms five or six times before being referred to hospital.
She had an MRI scan and was diagnosed with myelopathy affecting the neck. The condition is incurable and progressive and can lead to permanent paralysis and death.
As the surgery to treat it is so risky and can cause motor or sensory loss of the limbs, paralysis and incontinence of the bladder and bowel, doctors decided to watch and wait to see if Amanda’s condition stabilised.
Amanda herself was loathe to have the operation as she was too scared. She confesses: “I was quite resistant to the surgery at first because of the huge risk.
“Every surgery has a risk, but this operation had a greater risk because of the spine.
“My spinal cord was compressed to such a degree, it was disfunctioning so messages weren’t getting through to the brain.
“I was terrified of having the operation because of the risk. Also, being a mum, I felt I didn’t have time to have surgery and be bed-bound.
“I ignored my condition and buried my head in the sand hoping it would all go away.”
However, Amanda’s condition deteriorated rapidly and when she went on holiday to Lanzarote last August, Amanda realised she was becoming increasingly weak in the limbs. Her legs kept twitching and moving on their own and she couldn’t wiggle her toes or flex her ankles back up.
As soon as Amanda returned from holiday, she rang the hospital and was booked for an emergency MRI scan.
Over the following weeks, her condition worsened and after one check-up, Amanda’s consultant sent her straight for an MRI and red flagged her for urgent surgery as he felt she was on the brink of becoming paralysed.
She underwent her surgery 10 days after being referred.
Amanda explains: “There is a waiting list of nine months for spinal surgery but I was put in as an emergency.
“I was initially booked in for the operation in December, but my consultant felt I needed to be done earlier as he thought the risk was too great so the surgery was carried out on November 3 last year.
“By this point, just day-to-day walking was difficult. Slopes became hills and small walks felt like hikes.
“I was tiring with the effort of just getting through the day. Even in the days leading up to the operation, I was deteriorating rapidly.”
Amanda’s major operation involved the surgeon going in through her neck to work on her spinal cord. To do this meant moving the jugular artery in her neck - which in itself was a huge risk.
The surgery then involved chipping away at the discs embedded in her spinal cord to alleviate the compressing of her spine and then spacers, titanium plates, screws and donor bone were inserted.
Amanda says: “My neck was screwed together and enforced with titanium plates and donor bone was put in my neck. This will become solid bone within 18 months.”
The surgery was a success and amazingly, Amanda left hospital after just three days.
At first, she was on crutches but as soon as she was able to get walking, she did.
Amanda says: “Everything was really difficult at first. I had to sleep upright for a few months as I couldn’t get up from a lying down position.
“I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over a pint of milk and couldn’t use my arms to do things like making beds and ironing.
“However, you were encouraged to walk as soon as you could.
“It was a gradual process and I did a bit more each day.”
After about three months, Amanda slowly re-introduced running into her life.
She explains: “My running has always been my saviour and has helped me through difficult times in my life.
“I went spinning at the gym at first to build my legs back up and did lots of walking. Then I ran a mile and slowly increased it by half a mile at a time.”
Although Amanda has never entered a running race or competition as she isn’t competitive, this Sunday, she will be taking part in the Freckleton Half Marathon and completing it will be a major achievement for her.
She will be running to raise money for The Back-Up Trust, a spinal cord injury charity.
Amanda says: “I feel very lucky to have ended up the way I have and feel nothing but gratitude to the people who encouraged me to have the operation.
“There is no cure for myelopathy so I will be monitored and doctors will see what happens.
“These things in my neck might last 10 years before I need another operation, or I might not be that lucky.
“Despite what happened to me, I still feel very lucky.
“I got over the dog attack and I’ve got over this. I can live my life and laugh and smile.
“There are so many people worse off than me with conditions that nothing can be done for.
“I’ve been re-built by the NHS over the last few years and have so much praise for the people who treated me and looked after me.
“I will always feel indebted to them.
“If it wasn’t for them, I would be in a wheelchair now paralysed from the neck down.”
To sponsor Amanda, visit: www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Craig42