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Saturday
Dec242005

You think you have it bad?

I've unashamedly pinched this from today's Guardian -

"Something wonderful happened

Once miracles were supernatural events, utterly inexplicable. But, really, you don't need divine intervention for a Lazarus-like recovery, or unexpected joy. Craig Taylor investigates a modern miracle.

Phoebe Stuart
When a mother lives halfway around the world from her children, she must learn the fine art of not worrying. Megan Stuart and her husband, Ian, moved from Australia to Liverpool six years ago when Ian took a job at Liverpool Hope University. There were occasions when their three grown children back in Australia complained of illnesses, and when she heard that her youngest, 18-year-old Phoebe, had tonsillitis, Megan wasn't unduly concerned.

It was June 2001, and Phoebe was living in the hall of residence at Queensland University when her eyes became puffy. Her GP prescribed penicillin and she returned to college. When her condition worsened, she went to hospital and was immediately put in the infectious diseases ward. That night she deteriorated and was admitted to intensive care.
By the time her mother flew in, Phoebe's skin was covered in blisters. Her hair, eyelashes and fingernails were falling off, and she was swollen, almost unrecognisable. There had been a severe reaction to the penicillin. Phoebe was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disease that attacks the skin and mucous membranes. Patients burn from the inside out, at a vicious pace. There was a friendly Irish doctor on duty when Megan arrived at the Royal Brisbane. She asked about Phoebe's chances. "He just looked at me like he was saying, 'You fool.' I said, 'Twenty per cent?' I was trying to get it higher."

Phoebe deteriorated. She was given a further diagnosis of the more severe variant, toxic epidermal necrolysis. Her chances of survival plummeted. By the third week in intensive care, the tiny blood vessels at the tips of her extremities began to blacken. Soon after, her fingers began to go black and then her whole left hand died. By week four the staff were forced to amputate.

The Stuarts live in the Childwall neighbourhood of Liverpool. On the Sunday afternoon I visit, Phoebe answers the door with a bright grin. She's heard the stories of her time in a coma, how the surgeon told her parents, "What's a foot? It's nothing. It has no bearing on life at all." But it wasn't just a foot. The surgeons amputated both her legs below the knee. And the fingertips on her right hand. And her left hand.

Phoebe's tone is light and optimistic. She is comfortable taking off one of her prosthetic legs, now a little battered with wear. She'd asked for tanned legs, being Australian, after all. She wears a metal bracelet from a "five-dollar shop" in Brisbane to cover the line where her skin and the false hand meet. Phoebe says she was a bit of a tomboy growing up. "Vanity has never been a massive thing in my persona."

Even after the amputations, the disease continued, reserving a special malice for her eyes. Her eyelids were stitched together to try to keep as much lubrication inside as possible. The surface of her cornea burned. Slowly, she was going blind. She's since had a number of operations at St Paul's in Liverpool: a small graft of amniotic membrane placed on each eye; cells inserted in her eyelids from a donor. She has regained 60% vision.

"In intensive care, no one thought I was going to live," Phoebe says. "In the infectious diseases ward, no one thought I would live a normal life. In rehab, the head of rehab said to my parents, 'Hasn't anyone told you? Phoebe's not going to walk again.' I was such a princess about it. 'A wheelchair? How embarrassing.' No one was willing to say I'd be fine."

Phoebe has four subjects left for her political science degree and has applied to do law next year. She'll get married sometime in the future and have kids. That's not a worry. All of that stuff, she says, is "ship-shape". In a quiet moment during lunch, the conversation turns to miracles. Twenty years ago things would have been different. Death - most likely. Blindness - certainly. Afterwards, Phoebe walks me out to the car. It's not a long walk, but, given the history, it feels a touch miraculous."

Kind of puts your own worries into perspective, doesn't it? Amazing story.

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Reader Comments (2)

Seems like all you do is swipe stuff from other blogs. Lazy bum.
December 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNona
Hey shit-for-brains, The Guardian is a newspaper but being a dumb-fuck backwoods American cracker you wouldn't know that. As for the rest of it, if I didn't give an acknowledgement you'd never know would you, Smartmouth. And Linking is what it's all about. From my log I notice this is the only page you've visited, so what the fuck would you know Little Miss Blogexplosion. So go eat dogshit and die!
December 26, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterlambe, paris

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