Harpenden woman hopes to run athletic event nearly three years after being paralysed

Emma Harrison undergoing physiotherapy with Dr Guy Romain.

Emma Harrison undergoing physiotherapy with Dr Guy Romain. - Credit: Archant

A Harpenden woman is hoping to run part of an athletic event nearly three years after she was paralysed by a neurological condition.

Emma in the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar in 2014.

Emma in the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar in 2014. - Credit: Archant

Emma Harrison, 29, was working in Myanmar in 2015 when she contracted dengue fever, normally quite a mild condition, but one which resulted in her suffering years of anguish.

After picking up the fever, she visited a Myanmar doctor, who told her to quickly evacuate the country otherwise she may die.

Emma said: “It took 16 hours to get back, but I do not remember much of it. By the time I had to get off the plane I could not move.”

Her parents wanted her to receive treatement at the Hospital of Tropical Diseases in London, and had to drive her there in person because the waiting ambulance wanted to take her to a nearby hospital instead.

Emma in the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar in 2014.

Emma in the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar in 2014. - Credit: Archant

Once she was admitted, Emma was told there was not much medics could do but monitor her and give her fluids.

The fever had caused her count of platelets, which clot the blood to prevent bleeding, had dropped to zero, causing her to experience internal bleeding.

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While suffering from dengue, Emma developed a complication called transverse myelitis, an inflammation around the spine which left her paralysed.

The furniture designer said: “That has caused the lasting damage and has been the issue for two and a half years while I’ve been trying to get things back on track. No-one could guess when and how it will improve.

Emma undergoing physiotherapy Dr Guy Romain.

Emma undergoing physiotherapy Dr Guy Romain. - Credit: Archant

“The paralysis affected pretty much everything. I previously worked as an artist and designer and I could not even move my arms or fingers so I could not do any work.

“More than that, art and designing were things I enjoyed doing and it was how I would relax, but that was taken away from me.”

Physiotherapists said to keep as active as possible, and Emma has since kept up an intensive physiotherapy schedule, which has helped her progress.

However after she kept being let down by specialists who did not know enough about her condition, the decision was made to take responsibility for her own care and through social media, Emma found out about a neurological recovery centre in Florida called NeuroFit360.

She travelled to the facility in October 2016 and said: “It was a big gamble to go all that way, but within an hour of meeting the specialists I could tell they were going to be able to help. It was the first time I have hard someone respond that way, and after hearing people say they have no idea and there was not much hope it was a huge relief to find someone who knew what to do and was willing to help.”

Neurofit360 offer a dual function-type of training which challenges two systems at once, so patients go from sitting to standing up while holding a ball, which is usually automatic, but not for people with Emma’s conditions. The exercise is supposed to develop neurological connections.

“I have never seen anywhere like this. They treat people with all sorts of major injuries, some cannot communicate, some have no movement and that was a nice thing to find people suffering with similar types of problems as me.”

Emma is returning to Neurofit360 for further treatment so she can take part in the international Wings for Life World Run in Florida alongside her physiotherapist Dr Guy Romain, who first mentioned it to her when she originally started on the treadmill and harness at the centre.

People using walking frames and wheelchairs compete in the run, which has no set distance and takes place at locations around the world. It is a favourite with Neurofit360’s patients.

Emma is hoping to be fit enough to partly run and partly walk the event, with as little reliance on crutches, or her physiotherapists, as possible.

She has been visiting several physiotherapists in Britain, including Marchon Athletic in Harpenden and Prime Physio in Cambridge, during her breaks from Neurofit360.

But the Florida facility is where she makes her biggest leaps forward and where she will be training in the run to the May 6 event.

“I will definitely be pushing myself as hard as possible. It will be a big challenge.”

She is taking part to raise money for the Matt Hampson Foundation, which supports people who have suffered life-changing injuries like Emma.

To donate to her fundraiser, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/emma-harrison56 or text ECHA50 £10 or £20 to 70075.