Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Friday, 25 December 2009

Why recovering mother wants no gifts

It will be a lean Christmas for Tara Patterson this year - with not so much as a pair of earrings nestling under the tree. But as Ed Davey reports, when you have just recovered from sudden and inexplicable paralysis, life and good health is gift enough.

Tara Patterson with daughter Lyra
Mrs Patterson has astounded doctors with her recovery

Father Christmas's load will be just a little bit lighter this year.

While Tara Patterson's one-year-old daughter can expect presents by the sack-full, she and her husband have told friends they do not want gifts this year.

Instead, they hope relations will donate money to the charity that helped 40-year-old Tara, a fundraiser from St John's Wood, west London, overcome a mysterious and terrifying illness earlier this year.

The little known Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) strikes suddenly and for little-understood reasons.

The disease attacks the peripheral nervous system causing arms, legs and facial muscles to become inflamed and cease working. Recovery can take years.

"I was supposed to be celebrating my first Mother's Day with [my daughter] Lyra when I began to feel unwell", recalled Mrs Patterson.

You know it's not good when the doctor tells you: 'You really don't want to know what the worst case scenario is'
Tara Patterson

"When I woke up the next morning I felt like I had been hit by a bus.

"I also noticed my skin seemed to be very sensitive and the sensation seemed very strange."

From there it got worse, fast.

Mrs Patterson said: "I swiftly went down hill and just when I should have been celebrating Lyra's first birthday, I was locked into a strange new world of physical weakness and excruciating pain.

"My neurologist swiftly diagnosed GBS after a series of unpleasant tests.

"You know it's not good when the resident doctor tells you: 'You really don't want to know what the worst case scenario is'."

It can strike young and old, male or female.
Just one in 100,000 will get it.
Why it happens is still under debate, but 60% of sufferers had a recent infection or flu.
In severe cases even breathing is paralysed, leading to the need for a ventilator.
80% make a full recovery but some spend months in hospital. One in 20 die.

It was then that Mrs Patterson's husband contacted the Guillain-Barre Syndrome Support Group.

"They swiftly sent information on this bewildering illness to help us make sense of what was happening to me and my family", Mrs Patterson said.

"They also offered to send a fellow sufferer who had recovered from GBS to talk to me.

"Just knowing a fellow survivor was there if I needed them was incredibly reassuring."

Fortunately Mrs Patterson made an "amazingly swift" recovery, according to her neurologist.

And, although she still feels fatigue, she is looking forward to a happy Christmas - albeit without much to unwrap.

But Mrs Patterson said: "When you have been as ill as you get with GBS, you appreciate the big things in life like health, family and friends."

To donate to the support group visit Mrs Patterson's Just Giving page.

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Guillain-Barré Syndrome
05 Dec 01 |  G-I

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