What started as a cold left former soldier paralysed
Former soldier Steve Mawer was a strong, healthy dad-of-two, training to take on a major physical challenge.
The 55-year-old was working towards a 100-mile bike ride to raise cash for charity, when he noticed the beginning of a cold.
His symptoms were not unusual – but within days Steve was almost completely paralysed.
The welfare officer, based at Fulwood Barracks in Preston, had developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare and potentially life-threatening condition of part of the nervous system.
“Training was going well, and one day I developed a normal cold”, recalls Steve, who lives in Wesham and was previously an infantry soldier at Weeton Barracks.
“I carried on training but I increasingly felt tired all the time and started getting tingling in my fingers.”
The symptoms began at the end of March this year, and progressively got worse and Steve went to the doctor and the hospital.
However, in A&E he was told he had a virus, and was advised to return to his GP the following day.
But he says: “I woke up in the morning and I was completely numb.
“I just managed to get up, I was walking like an old man and I had to use a walking stick.”
When Steve arrived at the surgery in Kirkham he was sent straight to Royal Preston Hospital where he was assessed and diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
He remembers: “The doctor said what you’ve got is life-threatening, we need to get you onto a ward very quickly.
“They took me to a ward, I was quickly put on a bed and within just a few hours I got up to go to the toilet and found I couldn’t walk any more – my legs had stopped working.”
He became increasingly paralysed and says: “At one stage I was paralysed pretty much except for the eyes and my voice, and even then I had double vision.
“I even lost my voice for a couple of days – my larynx was paralysed and I was completely dependent on staff and my family.
“The paralysis went on for a few weeks.
“It got to the stage where it was affecting my breathing and I was assessed by intensive care.
“I lost 45 per cent of my lung capacity at that stage – the bottom half of my lungs had stopped working and I was struggling breathing.
“There was a machine that would inflate my lungs. That lasted about two weeks.”
Steve was given treatment, but the first course didn’t work, and he was becoming “more and more at risk”.
He remembers: “I couldn’t sleep, because I didn’t feel safe sleeping at night.
“I sat talking to the staff all night and do breathing exercise – that’s all I could do really, breathing was all I had control over.”
Thankfully, the second course of the treatment was successful and, within hours, Steve began to regain some sensation in his left hand.
Within three days he was able to move his left arm.
Steve was supported through the ordeal by wife Janette and sons Michael, 28 and Kieran, 22, who he describes as his “wing man”.
He says being unable to eat or drink was one of the worst elements of his experience, and Kieran made a hydration pack for Steve to be able to drink from.
As soon as he was able to begin his rehabilitation he says he “took the bull by the horns”, and has praised hospital staff for their “outstanding” care.
He says: “I was in there for six months, pretty much learning how to walk and talk.
“I was assigned to the physio team, speech and language therapists, nutritionists, and I got a programme of recovery.”
Steve describes his experience as “quite frightening”, but says: “Because of my previous work and being in the army, I think that put me in good stead.
“I’m a strong-minded person and on my recovery notes it said I was fiercely independent, which is why I recovered so quickly.
“Everything they gave me, I enhanced by doing my own fitness and recovery.
“I said I want to get up and walk out of here.”
Steve smashed all his recovery targets, and was able to begin a gradual return to work in November.
He is hoping to make a full recovery over the coming months, and will be assessed for any lasting symptoms next year.
But he says he couldn’t have made the progress he has without the “fantastic care” he had in the hospital, and the support of his family who were his “rock”.
He also says his GP is to thank for spotting the symptoms when she did, and telling him to go to hospital.
He says: “I was 15-and-a-half stone when I went into hospital, a powerful man, I went to the gym three times a week, I would ride a bike 50 miles and wouldn’t think anything of it.
“But I lost three stone within a month of being in hospital and most of that was muscle.
“The first time I saw myself naked I looked down at myself and didn’t recognise my body - it had completely wasted away.
“That was the kick-off for me, I thought I worked hard for those muscles and I want to get them back.” Steve went from strength to strength and eventually managed to stand up.
He says: “When I stood, it brought a tear to my eyes because I didn’t think I would be standing again.” His progress continued and he slowly began walking again, taking a few steps.
He says: “It was overwhelming – I thought I was permanently paralysed.”
Although Steve is still recovering, his goal now is to complete the 100-mile bike ride next summer.
The charity ride will begin in Barrow, around the coast and finish at Fleetwood lifeboat station.