|   | 

'Everything was taken from me at 21, but look at me now': Woman paralysed from the neck down by a rare condition can now brush her hair, feed herself and even do a push up

  • Helen Fincham couldn't wipe away her tears when she was paralysed in 2016
  • Doctors were baffled when her sore neck eventually led to her inability to move
  • Miss Fincham's loss of movement was confirmed as being transverse myelitis
  • But after months of intensive physiotherapy, Miss Fincham has regained a degree of independence

A 23-year-old woman left paralysed by a rare condition can now brush her hair, feed herself and even do a push-up.

Helen Fincham, from Pencoed, near Cardiff, reportedly couldn't wipe away her own tears when she lost her ability to move in August 2016.

Doctors were baffled when her sore neck, that she thought was caused by sleeping at an awkward angle, eventually led to paralysis. 

Miss Fincham's sudden loss of movement was confirmed as being transverse myelitis – a rare neurological disorder that damages the spinal cord.

But after months of intensive physiotherapy at hospital, Miss Fincham has regained a degree of independence. 

Helen Fincham, from Pencoed, near Cardiff, couldn't wipe away her own tears when she lost her ability to move in August 2016

Helen Fincham, from Pencoed, near Cardiff, couldn't wipe away her own tears when she lost her ability to move in August 2016

Speaking about her ordeal for the first time, she said: 'Everything was taken from me at 21. I would even cry at night yet couldn’t wipe my own tears.

'But look at me now. I can move my arms and hands and have only a little independence back but it’s been more than I could of asked for and I’m so grateful.' 

What is this disorder? 

Miss Fincham was eventually diagnosed with transverse myelitis, which causes inflammation to both sides of one section of the spinal cord.

The exact cause is unknown, although it can be linked to viral or bacterial infections. It strikes around 300 people each year in the UK, according to figures.

Miss Fincham said the days after the illness struck were marred by confusion and fear. 

She said: 'It was awful at the beginning in A&E as everyone was clueless [as to] how my complete paralysis came on out of nowhere in less than an hour or so.

'I had numerous tests for two months figuring out the paralysis. But nothing could tell why. 

'So I had nothing to use for acceptance but to live with it, live with being spoon fed and everything.'

Doctors were baffled when her sore neck, that she thought was caused by sleeping at an awkward angle, eventually led to total paralysis

Doctors were baffled when her sore neck, that she thought was caused by sleeping at an awkward angle, eventually led to total paralysis

Miss Fincham's sudden loss of movement was confirmed as being transverse myelitis - a rare neurological disorder that damages the spinal cord

Miss Fincham's sudden loss of movement was confirmed as being transverse myelitis – a rare neurological disorder that damages the spinal cord

Miss Fincham spent months in rehabilitation at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff.

Paralysis is defined by the NHS as being 'the loss of the ability to move some or all of the body'. It can start suddenly or gradually and can temporarily disappear.

She feared she would never recover any movement, but then 'flinches' in her hands were followed months later by steady movement in her arms.

Private treatment aiding recovery 

Now private treatment is helping her to build on this and go further in her recovery than she ever thought possible.

She travels to Neurokinex in Bristol once a week for physio sessions, where she uses exercise equipment and even does aided push ups,

Miss Fincham also visits Neuro Physio Wales in Bridgend, which provides MOTOmed functional electronic stimulation.

But the treatment comes at a cost and a local plumber, who is backing her, has come up with an innovative way of paying for more treatment. 

Help from a local plumber 

Ashley Matthews, 25, is donating £5 from every boiler serviced and £30 from every boiler changed to Helen. 

Mr Matthews, from Matthews and Son Plumbing and Heating, wants to raise £700 to pay for a five-week course of treatment.

He has chatted to Helen during his part-time role as a doorman in the town and wanted to help out.

But after months of intensive physiotherapy at hospital, Miss Fincham has regained a degree of independence (pictured in session)

But after months of intensive physiotherapy at hospital, Miss Fincham has regained a degree of independence (pictured in session)

Miss Fincham, who has spoken about her ordeal for the first time, said the days after the illness struck were marred by confusion and fear (pictured aged 21)

Miss Fincham, who has spoken about her ordeal for the first time, said the days after the illness struck were marred by confusion and fear (pictured aged 21)

Mr Matthews said he was able to raise £45 in just the first few hours after he started fundraising and hopes his customers will continue to show their support.

Miss Fincham said: 'I was so surprised that someone whom I have only spoken to on some occasions would be so considerate and helpful.

'I’ve not reached out for help as I have done in the past already and I’m aware we all have money problems and it’s so kind.

'I left rehab feeling so let down and that there was nothing left to get better, but finding Neurokinex has made me realise there is more to be done and helped me and my depression.

'It’s expensive, but they’re amazing. They are another level, pushing you to your limits.

'I’ve had really bad days way at the beginning trying to learn to live this new way of life but it’s the friends and family who get me through each day with their support and kind words.'

'Things have changed so much' 

After completing her first push ups this month, she added: 'So lucky regaining movement. Things have changed so much for me. 

'I still struggle with tasks as I have no triceps in my one arm and the other [is] ridiculously weaker.

'But I am happier now that I don’t have to be spoon fed, or someone having to brush my hair and teeth and all the other things we do daily with our arms and hands that I took for granted before.'

Paralysis is defined by the NHS as being 'the loss of the ability to move some or all of the body'. It can start suddenly or gradually and can temporarily disappear

Paralysis is defined by the NHS as being 'the loss of the ability to move some or all of the body'. It can start suddenly or gradually and can temporarily disappear

She feared she would never recover any movement, but then 'flinches' in her hands were followed months later by steady movement in her arms (pictured in session)

She feared she would never recover any movement, but then 'flinches' in her hands were followed months later by steady movement in her arms (pictured in session)

Miss Fincham said: 'Look at me now. I can move my arms and hands and have only a little independence back but it¿s been more than I could of asked for' (pictured in session)

Miss Fincham said: 'Look at me now. I can move my arms and hands and have only a little independence back but it’s been more than I could of asked for' (pictured in session)

What is transverse myelitis? How neurological disorder causes inflammation of the spinal cord and can lead to paralysis

The term myelitis refers to inflammation of the spinal cord, transverse refers to the pattern of changes in sensation.

Transverse myelitis is the broad name of the disease, and there are various sub-types.  

Causes of the condition include infections, immune system disorders, and other disorders that may damage or destroy myelin, the fatty white insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers.

Causes of the condition include infections and immune system disorders that destroy myelin, the fatty white insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers

Causes of the condition include infections and immune system disorders that destroy myelin, the fatty white insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers

Inflammation within the spinal cord interrupts communications between nerve fibers in the spinal cord and the rest of the body, affecting sensation and nerve signaling below the injury. 

That can lead to paralysis.

Condition can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It does not appear to be genetic or run in families.  

Some people recover from transverse myelitis with minor or no long-term problems, but most suffer permanent impairments that affect their ability to perform ordinary tasks of daily living.  

There is no cure for the disease.   

 

Tags Health

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

related articles

Celebrity News