Page last updated at 06:23 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 07:23 UK
Swine Flu: Everything You Need to Know

Sharon Pentleton: "It frightens me to realise how close I came to not being here at all"

A pregnant Scottish woman who had to be flown to Sweden for life-saving treatment for swine flu has spoken for the first time of her ordeal.

Sharon Pentleton told the BBC's Panorama that she was "terrified" after she woke up in a foreign hospital hooked up to a ventilator.

She had to be put on a lung bypass machine to allow her lungs a chance to recover from the illness.

At the time of the outbreak in July, no machines were available in UK.

"I was terrified, I did not realise where I was or anything so, and they were talking strange," she told the BBC. "I was hooked up to all sorts of machines, I don't know... I had a ventilator."

No beds

Ms Pentleton, of North Ayrshire, was six months pregnant when she originally went to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock with severe back pain. She was initially treated for appendicitis before the diagnosis of swine flu.

After her condition rapidly deteriorated and she slipped into a coma, doctors decided she required the bypass procedure known as extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

Graphic shows how the ECMO works
1. Blood is drained out of the body through a vein into the ECMO machine, which removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen allowing the heart and lungs to rest

2. Blood is warmed before being returned to the heart - flow of blood out of the body is steadily reduced as patient recovers

The machine takes over the lung function and adds oxygen to the blood, allowing the lungs to recover and medication to treat infection to take hold.

There are only five dedicated adult ECMO beds in Britain, located at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and none was available when she was struck down.

In Stockholm, she spent almost two weeks hooked up to the machine and had to have a tracheotomy to aid her breathing.

"It was really, really horrible, that's the only way I can describe it and then I had all these tubes, couldn't breathe on my own," she said, adding that the true threat to her life only hit her once she was flown home in mid-August and later released from hospital.

"I think it really only sank in when I come home... when I entered the house, that's when I realised exactly what had happened."

'Wee miracle'

Despite making a full recovery, Ms Pentleton said she was still fearful of the illness, especially given how sick she became despite not having any previous health issues.

flu bug lab

"I'm still quite scared, I don't like to think about it. I realise how close I was to not being here so I still kind of worry about it. And every slight, like wee sniffle or something I'm really panicking."

Ms Pentleton, who is already the mother of a two-year-old daughter, said she still suffered from shortness of breath and worried about giving birth next month.

She also fears for her unborn son.

"They've told me he's still active and he's still growing fine. They told me nothing to worry about with him, because I was worrying about brain damage because everything that I've been through and the medication I've been on.

"But they say there's just a slight chance, they can't tell you 100% but they say its very unlikely that he's been damaged in any way - which is a wee miracle."

Ms Pentleton and her family had words of praise for the medical teams both in Scotland and Sweden who cared for her.

They have launched a fundraising campaign to help raise the money for Scotland to buy and run its own dedicated adult ECMO unit.

Swine Flu: Everything You Need to Know, a Panorama special - BBC One, Wednesday, 16 September at 2100BST.

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