Woman (UK) - - Real Life -

con­cluded that I had meningo­coc­cal sep­ti­caemia, a strain of menin­gi­tis that causes se­vere blood poi­son­ing. The virus had caused my blood ves­sels to haem­or­rhage un­der the skin, tinge­ing it black as my cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem shut down.

As I glanced down at my tainted limbs, I be­gan to sob. I had suc­cumbed to this crip­pling dis­ease all too quickly and now my arms and legs didn’t even look like my own.

Life-chang­ing dif­fer­ence

By the start of Fe­bru­ary 2014, I was still bed-bound in hos­pi­tal, and I be­gan to en­ter the­atre twice a week for surgery to re­move the dead tis­sue. I had skin grafts us­ing the skin off my back, arms and legs to re­place the flesh that’d been eaten away. The dis­ease had also caused per­ma­nent dam­age to my mus­cles and nerves, mean­ing I’d have to bat­tle with mo­bil­ity and dex­ter­ity prob­lems for the rest of my life. When doc­tors told me that my legs might have to be am­pu­tated, I sobbed.

But the most dif­fi­cult bat­tle I faced was com­ing to terms with the im­pact that the dis­ease had on my face. Sur­geons were forced to re­move the dead tis­sue where my nose and lips had turned black, leav­ing me barely able to speak, eat or even smile. And when I looked at my­self in the mir­ror for the first time, I was hor­ri­fied. The bot­tom half of my nose was miss­ing, my lips were de­stroyed and

I couldn’t quite be­lieve that what I was see­ing was now my face for­ever. I thought about those fes­tive drinks and re­alised just how much my life had changed in a mat­ter of weeks.

Af­ter my con­di­tion im­proved with an­tibi­otics, doc­tors de­cided not to pro­ceed with amputation and, for the first time in this whole or­deal, I al­most felt lucky.

I was fi­nally dis­charged from hos­pi­tal in April 2014 but I was no longer the fiercely in­de­pen­dent woman I’d been be­fore.

Feel­ing crushed

‘It’s OK, we’ll get through this,’ my sis­ter, Kerri, then 30, vowed as I moved in with her. But the nerve dam­age and wounds on my limbs caused mo­bil­ity is­sues and meant that I was largely re­liant on a wheel­chair, barely able to do any­thing for my­self. I couldn’t wash my­self, do my hair or cook meals, and I had to wholly rely on Kerri. I be­came im­mensely frus­trated that my once-able body had mal­func­tioned, and I didn’t know if I’d ever re­gain any level of au­ton­omy. My jour­ney to re­cov­ery was ex­cep­tion­ally long and I had se­ri­ously bad days where I’d even refuse to get out of bed.

Al­though my phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties got me down, think­ing about my looks ab­so­lutely crushed me. I was hav­ing surgery on my face ev­ery few months, but it was an in­cred­i­bly long process and I still didn’t like what I saw in the mir­ror.

I would only leave the house twice a week for hos­pi­tal ap­point­ments and phys­io­ther­apy – and ev­ery­where I went, I did so with my head down, ashamed of the face I now wore. I couldn’t work, had lost my self-con­fi­dence and my in­de­pen­dence, my sense of pur­pose and, along with it, any hope of find­ing love. The days came and went, each one the same as the last. I spent my time largely house-bound, watch­ing re­runs on TV while my friends were out en­joy­ing their lives. I was only 33, it all felt so un­fair.

I knew I needed to get back out there

– so a year later, I took the big­gest step I could think of. I heard about the TV show The Un­date­ables, which fol­lows peo­ple with chal­leng­ing con­di­tions on their jour­ney to find love, and I de­cided to ap­ply. I was de­lighted to be se­lected, and soon I was head­ing to Chelms­ford with my date, Gary, for a river­boat tour. De­spite my nerves, we had so much fun, and al­though ro­mance didn’t blos­som, the show was a huge con­fi­dence boost for me – and from then on, things be­gan to get bet­ter. I learned that peo­ple could see past my face, see me for who I truly am, but also that I didn’t need ro­mance to be happy.

So, af­ter the show, I set about do­ing things I en­joyed. I be­came part of a book group, joined a choir, and when I was well enough to move back to my flat in Au­gust 2014, I spent my days re­dec­o­rat­ing.

Then, in Oc­to­ber 2019, I had my 10th surgery, which fi­nally gave me back my smile. Be­ing able to grin again was such a mon­u­men­tal feat for me and took me one step closer to me feel­ing like my­self again.

I know that there will al­ways be peo­ple who stare, but I tell my­self they’re not star­ing be­cause of how I look, but be­cause I’ve been on TV. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know, but it helps.

Now, be­ing sin­gle no longer con­cerns me and I’ve learned to be happy on my own. My phys­i­cal re­cov­ery is still on­go­ing and I rely on a mo­bil­ity chair, but ev­ery day

I feel my­self get­ting stronger.

I’ve learned that what­ever life throws your way, you can get through it. I’m proud to say I’m a menin­gi­tis survivor, and that is def­i­nitely a rea­son to smile.

efore we moved into our 1970s house, it had only had one owner – the whole house was in des­per­ate need of up­dat­ing,’ says Heather. ‘So that’s what we fo­cused on first, which meant that the gar­den was largely for­got­ten. It was de­press­ing to look out of the

Bpa­tio doors onto the side area and see noth­ing but weeds and mess. ‘The main back gar­den was al­ready full of large, ma­ture shrubs when we bought the house, so it was low-main­te­nance and we didn’t want to make any big changes. But the side area was an awk­ward space – you walk through it to get to the side gate – it was unin­spir­ing.

‘I’d seen some gor­geous fenc­ing made from roof­ing bat­tens, and we thought about do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar to cover up the con­crete wall. An­other idea was built-in bench seat­ing. My hus­band, Ben, is re­ally handy when it comes to DIY – he’d built us an L-shaped bench in the din­ing area, and we thought a sim­i­lar de­sign would work out­side.

‘Once we’d fixed the po­si­tion of the bench, we de­signed the rest of the space around it. The firepit was next on our list. We’re keen campers and we all love gath­er­ing around the fire, so Ben liked the idea of a firepit. He found a steel fire bowl on Ama­zon, and built a brick sur­round.

‘For access to the side gate, we needed to put in a path, so we worked out a route that winds its way around the bench and the firepit and out to the lawn. I liked a sea­side-in­spired, board­walk-style path, which

Lois gar­den chairs, £119 for set of two, M&S

Gar­den cof­fee ta­ble, £99, John Lewis & Part­ners

Para­sol, £99, M&S

Out­door geo rug, from £55, Next

Re­cov­ery was tough, with lots of surg­eries to re­build her face

Tammy is strong – and happy

Keen campers, the cou­ple in­stalled a firepit and wood store In­spired by sea­side, board­walk-style path­ways, Heather and Ben used decking planks to cre­ate access to the side gate

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