Meet the woman who thought herself well
After being told she would never walk again, JENNI HALLAM explains how positive thinking got her back on her feet
WHEN Jenni Hallam was diagnosed with a rare bacterial infection in her spine, she was told she would never walk again. Yet although the odds were stacked against her she was determined to get back on her feet.
A year later, not only could she walk unaided but she was training in the gym several times a week thanks to the power of positive thinking.
“I believe that if you really want to do something and believe that you can, then almost anything is possible,” says Jenni, 62, a personal development coach from Beckenham, in Kent.
“It’s the same thinking that drives athletes and Paralympians and I used it to think myself better.”
Jenni’s ill-health began when she developed viral meningitis in her mid-40s. “The day I fell ill was an ordinary Saturday. I went to an exercise class in the morning and then met my family for lunch.
“We were sitting around a restaurant table ordering food and suddenly I couldn’t see properly. I couldn’t read the words on the menu. There was an incredible pain in my neck and at first I thought I’d hurt my neck in the exercise class that morning.”
However, it soon became clear something was seriously wrong.
‘The pain was so bad I couldn’t hold my head up’
“I was trying to act normally and play with my son, who was four at the time.
“Yet the pain was so bad that I couldn’t hold my head up and I had to put it on the table.”
Jenni went to hospital where she was diagnosed with suspected viral meningitis. To confirm the diagnosis, doctors did a lumbar puncture.
The procedure involves inserting a hollow needle between the bones of the spine so the fluid can be tested for infection.
The diagnosis was confirmed and Jenni was given antiviral drugs. Over the next few weeks she recovered and was discharged from hospital.
Yet over the following six months she began to have an unexplained pain in her lower back.
“Initially I was told it was sciatica but within six months I was completely crippled.
“I couldn’t move or get out of bed because the pain was so severe.
“I couldn’t work and at my worst I couldn’t even lift my head,” says Jenni. After six months of pain, she was sent to hospital but was immobile and had to be lifted out of her house by the fire brigade.
“The paramedics couldn’t get the stretcher over the banisters in my house so they had to call the fire brigade to lift me out,” she explains.
When she arrived at hospital, doctors discovered she had a bacterial infection in her spine, a rare complication of undergoing a lumbar puncture.
Because the infection had gone unchecked for so long, it was slowly travelling up her spine and causing irreparable damage.
“It was agony,” says Jenni, who was given intravenous drugs to fight the infection and extremely strong pain killers. Yet, although the infection was successfully treated by the antibiotics, one of the discs in Jenni’s back was left permanently damaged.
Doctors recommended surgery using metal plates to fuse her spine back together.
However, they warned that it was unlikely she’d ever walk again. Jenni was devastated.
“I’ve always been very into fitness and I couldn’t imagine my life without being able to dance and run and jump,” she says.
“Although the odds were against me, I was certain I was going to get better and get back in the gym.”
So against doctors’ advice, Jenni refused to have the surgery, instead turning to self-help books, seeking alternative ways to get better.
In one of the books she chanced upon something that would change her life.
“I read every self-help book I could find and started to immerse myself in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).”
NLP is a school of psychology which asserts that people’s beliefs about themselves and the world are set in their minds at the same age they learn language.
These beliefs exist in the subconscious part of the brain and affect the way people act every day.
Yet by using special techniques, these core beliefs can be changed, allowing people to do things they never thought were possible.
“It’s like disconnecting a piece of learning and replacing it with something else,” says Jenni.
“So if I had believed I was never going to walk again, I’m sure I neve would have got there because I would have behaved differently.”
Jenni used visualisation techniqu to imagine what she wanted her life to be like when she recovered an used that vision as motivation to get better.
She focused on the vision every day and over the next few weeks began to make a miraculous recovery.
Although doctors said Jenni would never walk again, she was determined to take a few steps using crutches.
“It was incredibly painful but I w determined to do it,” she says.
“I was in a ward with lots of older people and they all cheered when I got up and took a few steps.”
Over the next three months, Jenn stayed in hospital and underwent a course of gruelling physiotherapy to teach her to walk again.
“I defied medical opinion. My spin fused back together and I learnt to walk again with crutches much more quickly than I was expected to,” says Jenni.
After three months in hospital,