‘I TOOK THE BIGGEST STEP I COULD’
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.
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.
‘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