Michaela Melrose misses the simple pleasure of being able to hold her two young children in her arms.
Struck down by Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the nervous system, the 20-year-old has been in intensive care for almost three months.
She can barely talk and communicates using flash cards, winking and mouthing words.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ
The syndrome has also left her unable to walk but, little by little and with daily rehab, she is slowly regaining some movement.
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“I’m motivated by the kids,” she said.
Three times a week, her former partner, Conan McLennan, takes their two children – 2-year-old Hunter Melrose and 11-month-old Paityn McLennan – into Christchurch Hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU), where she has been since March 23.
Melrose had felt really tired during the two days before, but gave it little thought.
She ended up in the emergency department after suffering a dizzy spell and feeling unwell on March 22. She was sent home, but collapsed a few hours later, was unable to move and felt pins and needles in her right leg.
Melrose was admitted to ICU, where her condition deteriorated within hours.
“I couldn’t breathe. That’s all I can remember.”
She was put in an induced coma for a few days and the rest was a black hole in her memory. Last week, medical practitioners sat down with her and recalled what happened.
“She nearly died. She stopped breathing quite a bit,” McLennan said.
“She’s not meant to be living. They told us when she first came in that she might not make it through. The first three weeks were the danger zone where we came up every single day to make sure we were there for her.”
When she eventually woke from the coma, she could not move at all. Four weeks later, she could say yes or no. Her head was the first body part to regain any movement, followed by her eyes, mouth and shoulders.
When she let her children see her for the first time in two months, she cried.
“One at a time, we brought them in,” McLennan said.
Melrose had come a long way toward regaining more movement just in the last week, but she struggled to sleep.
“I am in pain all the time. This is all day,” she said.
Her former partner was struggling himself after resigning from work to care for their children full time while Melrose recovered.
“It’s really difficult, but you do what you have to do,” he said.
He had sold tools to help buy children’s furniture to set them up in their new home with him. He was now on the hunt for a child-friendly part-time job.
Melrose said it could be at least two years before she was able to look after her children again.
“There’s no promise that I will walk again, but I’m improving faster than they thought,” she said.
McLennan said Hunter and Paityn were missing their mum.
“They’ve gone from seeing her every day to a few times a week. Hunter has coped with it pretty well but Paityn has got really cuddly. She misses her mum heaps.”
Staff hoped to have Melrose in Burwood Hospital next week, where she would continue rehabilitation.
“It’s all unknown but Michaela is going to keep fighting. She is definitely a fighter. There is no certainty she will walk again, but I think she will,” McLennan said.
WHAT IS GULLAIN-BARRE?
– It is a collection of symptoms, not a single disease.
– It affects one to two people per 100,000 or between 40 and 100 New Zealanders a year.
– Symptoms include rapidly progressive weakness, sometimes resulting in complete paralysis.
– Progression always stops within four weeks followed by a prolonged recovery.
– Recovery typically takes three to six months, though two-thirds never fully recover.
– It frequently follows another health problem such as food poisoning, flu, viral infections, childbirth or surgery.
– Two cases were triggered by the campylobacter outbreak from contaminated drinking water in Hawke’s Bay last year.
▪ Donations to support Melrose’s recovery and the family can be made on Givealittle.