When people ask me how I came to terms with losing my legs it’s difficult to put into words, but this picture brings it back, this was the first time I got out of my hospital bed and sat in a wheelchair in public, not just a little trip out to the park, oh no that’s not my style!
Just a week before this I was at rock bottom, refusing to eat, I’d given up, but the hospital staff were all buzzing about a “special visitor” who was coming to open the Douglas Bader rehab centre, and that special person happened to be my idol, Princess Diana.
If I could get myself well, if I could prove to my consultant I was strong enough to sit in my chair for just a few hours, if I could somehow find the strength to go out of the safety of my hospital room in my wheelchair without my legs, there’s a chance I could see this amazing lady in the flesh.
My consultant set me a challenge “Well, it’s up to you Sophia, if you are well enough and strong enough, Then you can go to the open day”. This was what I needed, a goal, it brought back my determination and my fight. I put on a bit of weight in that week, I forced myself to sit up for longer than I had since my amputations and I started to smile.
That morning was one of the most exciting, but one of the scariest mornings of my life. I had my first shower with no legs and the nurses washed my hair, one nurse bought her hair dryer in especially to dry my hair (look at that shine!), my parents arrived at the hospital looking so smart and happy, and they brought an equally smart outfit for me.
Then in wheeled the thing I dreaded most… my wheelchair. I hated the thought of having to be in a wheelchair, but this was the only way I would get to see Diana, so I accepted with a smile and off we flew. To be outside was hard, but because of who she was everything happened so quickly and with such precision, there was no fumbling awkwardly trying to squeeze a wheelchair passed everyday obstacles, there was a designated place for me to be and as I was still so weak I was one of the last to be brought in. I remember the deafening noise, after spending 4 months in a hospital room all on my own, the noise of what was probably a few hundred people in this new sports centre was immense, i was so scared but far more excited, every single person in that room was buzzing.
We waited for a few minutes and then a wave of silence fell over the entire building… she was here! It was like electricity surging through the entire building! We were upstairs, Diana and her entourage made their way round the downstairs first, it was agonising knowing she was here somewhere in this building but I couldn’t see her. The lift opened behind me, my Mums face lit up, but I couldn’t turn, I was stuck, I panicked, I remember thinking I was going to cry, I couldn’t see her. I then looked at my Mum who was looking up at someone, and then there she was… Princess Diana, stood right next to ME!
I struggled to look up at her, she was so tall, I was just sat there blinking back tears, but I was beaming, I felt so alive! Then she did the most amazing thing, to anyone else what Diana did probably doesn’t mean that much but when you’re as vulnerable and scared as I was, when you’ve lost absolutely everything this lady knew what would help. She crouched down to her knees, to my level, she gently held my hand and spoke to me directly, looking me straight in the eyes “Hello Sophia, (I couldn’t believe she actually said my name!) did Meningitis do this to you?” Diana was the patron of the Meningitis Trust, she knew about the illness, she knew statistics and symptoms, most importantly she knew how important awareness would be to saving people’s lives. She chatted to my Mum about the symptoms and asked if Mum had recognised them, she then said “we really need to get the symptoms of Meningitis out there, make sure everyone knows what to look for” she was genuinely interested in us.
She went round to each family with the same humanity and interest in all of their lives, each one had a different story, each one she showed an interest in, a lesson I have never forgotten, everyone I ever meet has a story to tell and I love hearing about them!
I was 16 years old when Meningitis struck me down, I lost my legs and my life changed forever, but I’ve always believed I was one of the lucky ones, I’ve met so many families who weren’t as lucky.
That day I decided I would do everything I could to raise awareness of Meningitis, Princess Diana was right, awareness really is the key to saving lives. That was probably the day my life started again and a day I will never ever forget. I went on to work closely with Meningitis Now as an Ambassador, I have shared my own story and experiences to help them raise life saving awareness.
Share this with any young adults heading off to UniTeenagers and young adults are the 2nd highest at risk group. Vaccines are available from the NHS and Men B vaccines are available for a small fee. Being aware of symptoms and seeking medical attention is key is saving lives.
Ensure all college and university students know the signs and symptoms and #checkonyourfriends in person not just in chat groups