A Lancashire nurse who is battling a health condition that causes periods of paralysis as well as a long-term pain condition says the power of painting has given her new purpose. She tells AASMA DAY her story
Suddenly being struck by paralysis and being able to hear everything going on around you but not being able to move a muscle or even open your eyes is a deeply distressing experience.
For Francesca Vaughan, this is reality as she suffers from a very rare condition which causes periods of paralysis.
Francesca, 46, who lives in Clifton, near Preston, has familial hypokalemic periodic paralysis, a disorder that causes occasional episodes of muscle weakness and sometimes a lower than normal level of potassium in the blood.
Francesca says she first started being affected by the condition when she was in her 20s and at first it only happened once or twice a year.
Francesca, who has worked in the NHS for 18 years, says: “I get a really rapid heart rate and then my muscles start to contract and I become paralysed.
“When I am paralysed, I can’t move a muscle or open my eyes, but I can hear and am aware of everything around me. It can be distressing but normally it only lasts a few minutes. I am lucky as I keep breathing.
“It takes a lot of years to get a diagnosis.”
After being diagnosed with the condition, Francesca was managing it quite well and, every time she had an episode, she would be taken into hospital and, for her, the best treatment was found to be IV contained potassium.
Francesca says the condition became a lot worse once she hit 40 and she could have a cluster of three episodes in two months and be in hospital for a few days at a time.
Then, four years ago, around the time Francesca lost her dad Frank, she became very poorly and was admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital and was in a wheelchair for several weeks.
She was then diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. As well as widespread pain, affected people may also have increased sensitivity to pain, fatigue and muscle stiffness.
Francesca says: “It is the fibromyalgia that causes me more problems day-to-day as I get pain in my joints, muscles and suffer from fatigue and disturbed sleep.
“However, with the paralysis condition, things are a lot more serious. If I don’t get the treatment of potassium, I could have a heart attack.”
About three years ago, Francesca was so immobile she was in a wheelchair most of the time and struggling to concentrate and carry out tasks without getting confused.
Francesca decided to try out some painting to see if it would help with her concentration.
She explains: “My parents Frank and Peggy were both talented artists but were both self taught and did it at home as a hobby.
“My dad actually had one of his paintings displayed at the Tate Gallery.
“At school, I liked art but I never thought of it as a career and I hadn’t done any painting for more than 20 years. I thought I’d try some painting to see if it would help with my concentration.
“I found it was extremely good in helping me concentrate and focus but it wasn’t too taxing either.
“When I first began painting, I started with oils and did landscapes and still-lifes.
“Then I thought it might be interesting to do some contemporary abstract painting because it was something I had never done before. I absolutely loved it which I never expected.
“I found painting very healing and therapeutic.
“When you are so poorly, it can be very difficult when you are not able to do things that you used to be able to do.
“Painting gives you a sense of purpose at times when you don’t feel you have any. It is very calming.
“Painting has given me my life back.”
Francesca began doing a number of paintings and posting them on social media and she kept getting positive responses to them. Then someone suggested she tried selling them, so now Francesca sells them on websites and has also had a number of exhibitions near where she lives.
Francesca, who worked in pathology and then in theatres before moving to research and development, is now a physio assistant at Clifton Hospital.
However, due to her health conditions, she has now reduced to working two days a week.
Francesca says her only regret is that her dad, who was a fantastic painter, didn’t live to see her painting accomplishments and she knows he would have loved to paint with her.
Francesa says art has made a real difference to her life and she now wants to help other people who are struggling with health issues who feel art might help them.
She says: “If anyone is struggling with a long term condition or health problems and would like to try some art, I would be more than happy to help.”
• Call Francesca on: 07722 506122.