Paralysed after giving birth
After speaking to Fiona, we knew her story had to be shared to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. So we published her story on MailOnline and in That's Life magazine.
When Fiona began suffering bad headaches and blurry vision at 18 weeks pregnant, she had no idea of the trauma that lay ahead.
Thinking they were just normal symptoms of pregnancy, Fiona, from Orkney, Scotland, tried to carry on as usual. But when they got worse, she went to A&E.
The hospital arranged for Miss Miller to travel by air ambulance to Aberdeen for an MRI scan. After a few standard tests, the consultant sat Fiona and her partner Graeme Bain, 35, down.
‘She told me that I had lesions on my brain,’ Fiona said. ‘I didn’t really grasp, at that stage, what a lesion was. Then the consultant told us I might have Multiple Sclerosis. I was stunned, and when I came out of the consultation I went back to my bed and just burst into tears. The last thing you want to hear when you’re pregnant is that you might have a condition like that.’
The consultant explained that she was unable to give Fiona an official diagnosis because there was no way of knowing if the lesions were active or not. To find out, dye would need to be injected which could potentially harm her unborn baby.
Fiona continued to fly back and forth from Orkney to Aberdeen to see her consultant.
Then, in March 2013, when her vison problems extended to both eyes and she started having problems with her balance, she was officially diagnosed with MS at 28 weeks pregnant.
Over 100,000 people live with MS in the UK and the condition affects almost three times as many women as men. Symptoms usually start in your 20s and 30s, at a time when some women like Fiona may be thinking about starting a family.
‘While I tried to face the diagnosis head on, I had weakness in my legs, my balance was awful and my eyesight worsened,’ Fiona said. ‘The doctors were unable to treat me with the disease-modifying drugs I needed because they would harm my baby. Fortunately, they arranged for me to start an infusion treatment immediately after I gave birth.’
Fiona had her son Lucas in May 2014. She and his father Graeme were relieved he’d been born healthy, but Fiona’s ideas of being a hands-on mother were soon stripped away.
‘Two days after giving birth my health deteriorated and I couldn’t move my legs,’ she said. ‘I was paralysed from the waist down. It was simply terrifying.’
Fiona has relapsing remitting MS, which meant her symptoms would come and go. Studies have shown that the impact of pregnancy on people with MS can increase the risk of relapse. The damage to the coating around the nerve fibres in Fiona’s brain initiated a relapse, causing paralysis.
Two days after giving birth, Fiona started treatment and Lucas was unable to stay in the hospital with her.
‘I didn't start seeing the positive effects of treatment for 7 weeks,' she said. 'When I started receiving alemtuzumab, I got really cold, my eyesight got worse, and I was dealing with all of this with a new baby.
‘The worst part was that Graeme and Lucas were unable to stay in the hospital with me. It was heartbreaking seeing them walk out the door every night – no mother should have to watch that.’
Fiona found it difficult being unable to do many of the tasks she'd expected to be doing, and to bond with Lucas in such a limited amount of time.
‘I gave Lucas a bottle once a day, if that,’ she said. ‘There were days I was too tired to spend much time even holding him. I wished I could have given him the cuddles that a mother should give their new born child. I also didn't feel secure enough to hold him for any length of time. I remember the first day I spent 15 minutes with Lucas by myself while Graeme went out of the room to take a phone call – it was petrifying.
‘I was also unable to breastfeed because of the treatment I was receiving. I was quite upset because I’d really been looking forward to doing it.’
With treatment and physio, Fiona learnt to sit up and eventually how to stand again.
‘It felt like it was taking ages and I was very impatient,’ she said. ‘The first time I tried to stand I fell to the floor. The second, I managed to stand for 3 seconds. But after a second dose of treatment, I began to feel much stronger. When my left leg began to move again, I knew it was all coming back.”
By the beginning of July 2014, Fiona was using a zimmer frame and a couple of weeks later she was able to use crutches.
‘It felt like an achievement, but I was only able to walk about 20 metres at the most using walking aids,’ she said.
Now Fiona is back home and with help from her family and the support from Graeme, she’s doing her best to be the hands-on mum she always wanted to be.
‘I’m OK day-to-day, but I still can’t walk like I once could,’ she said. ‘I still struggle to stand for long periods and can’t carry Lucas for long distances. It's tough, but I am determined to get better for Lucas.'