Lucky to live:

A rare virus left the life of glo­be­trot­ting tele­vi­sion pro­ducer Emma Martins hang­ing in the bal­ance. Five years on she is in­spir­ing oth­ers with her ex­tra­or­di­nary de­ter­mi­na­tion

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rachel Buller Th­e­longest­bat­

The story of a woman fight­ing back from horror virus

Emma Martins was liv­ing her dream life. Not only was she a suc­cess­ful tele­vi­sion pro­ducer, she was ful­fill­ing her pas­sion for travel as her ca­reer took her around the globe.

But five years ago a hol­i­day with friends in Viet­nam turned her world up­side down; a lifethreat­en­ing virus saw her bat­tling to sim­ply sur­vive, fol­lowed by an even longer bat­tle to learn how to live again.

Emma, who grew up in Nor­folk, was in hos­pi­tal for months and given only a 20% chance of sur­vival. Mirac­u­lously she made it through, but the virus has left her with a se­ri­ous brain in­jury, par­tial sight, cog­ni­tive fa­tigue and se­vere dys­lexia.

De­ter­mined not to give up, she be­gan to piece her life back to­gether, grad­u­ally re­learn­ing ba­sic skills and read­just­ing to the huge change in her life.

The virus she con­tracted in Viet­nam, acute dis­sem­i­nated en­cephalomye­li­tis (ADEM), caused a sud­den in­flam­ma­tion of the brain and spinal cord but, she says, ini­tially there was lit­tle clue as to how se­ri­ous it was.

“I just didn’t feel quite right and had a bit of an up­set stom­ach. I don’t re­mem­ber too much about it now – my brain ob­vi­ously wanted to for­get it. But I do re­mem­ber be­ing in a mu­seum in Ho Chi Minh City and I couldn’t keep track of what I was read­ing on the in­for­ma­tion boards. I must have just ig­nored it and fol­lowed the oth­ers.

“But on the last day, by chance, we ran into a doc­tor I knew from Lon­don and he told me to im­me­di­ately go to hos­pi­tal when I landed. I man­aged to make it off the flight and to the Royal Lon­don Hos­pi­tal and within a very short amount of time, I couldn’t see and was in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion. I didn’t leave hos­pi­tal for four months.”

Her re­cov­ery didn’t end with leav­ing hos­pi­tal. From learn­ing to walk again to ba­sic life skills such as cook­ing and us­ing money, run­ning to swim­ming, she had to start afresh.

In­cred­i­bly, five years on, she has run a half marathon, em­barked on vol­un­teer work as a be­frien­der, which led to an award from the Mayor of Lon­don for vol­un­tary ser­vices, has her own pod­cast series, has pro­duced a film for brain in­jury char­ity Head­way and is help­ing oth­ers with sight loss through a series of videos for the RNIB.

“My life has to­tally changed and it is a long bat­tle, but the brain is an ex­tra­or­di­nary thing and I am see­ing im­prove­ments all the time,” she says. “I am still a tele­vi­sion maker at heart and I re­mem­ber ask­ing my friends why they didn’t film my jour­ney.

“They were quite straight with me; they sim­ply didn’t think I was go­ing to make it. It was a harsh re­minder that re­ally I’m just very lucky to be alive.”

Emma, who lives in Lon­don, grew up in Baw­burgh, where her par­ents still live and where she still spends a lot of time. She was a pupil at Thorpe House School and Wy­mond­ham Col­lege. After study­ing at univer­sity in Sh­effield, she was de­ter­mined to forge a ca­reer in tele­vi­sion, be­hind the cam­eras, start­ing in Nor­wich on Anglia’s Tr­isha show. She moved to Lon­don to work on fac­tual shows and her ca­reer blos­somed, tak­ing her from re­searcher to pro­ducer – lead­ing to her job on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel pop sci­ence show How Do They Do It? which took her around the globe.

As she started to re­cover, Emma was keen to re­turn to work – but re­alised her sight loss would mean a ca­reer change. She started with some vol­un­tary work be­fore a friend in­vited her to spend a day a week at pod­cast com­pany acast.

“I learned so much and, after a year, they asked whether I would con­sider do­ing my own pod­cast, draw­ing on my own ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Her pod­cast The Long­est Bat­tle fea­tures in­ter­views with peo­ple who have over­come huge chal­lenges in their lives. From rugby in­ter­na­tional Alex Cor­bisiero and Bri­tish Ju­doka Josie Hor­ton to co­me­dian Tom Skel­ton, tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter Tr­isha God­dard and Pogues and Popes gui­tarist Paul Mad­dog McGuin­ness, the re­sult is a series of thought­ful, in­spir­ing and in­sight­ful pod­casts.

For Emma it was a big step, not only in her re­cov­ery, but also tak­ing her­self from be­hind the cam­era, to be­ing the per­son whose voice was be­ing heard.

“It seemed the per­fect medium for me: chat is the thing I can still def­i­nitely do,” she laughs. “I al­ways re­mained able to talk which I am so thank­ful for.

“Pro­fes­sion­ally it was hugely chal­leng­ing as I had to do all the re­search and or­gan­i­sa­tion and it was ex­haust­ing but I have loved it. Talk­ing to these peo­ple makes you re­alise you are not alone.”

Through her blog, pod­casts and vol­un­tary work, Emma is keen to show oth­ers liv­ing with brain in­juries that they don’t have to aban­don their hopes and dreams.

In­cred­i­bly, she is al­ready trav­el­ling again, some­thing which is “in her bones”, al­though this has re­quired a real mind­set change.

She has al­ready been to Europe, Aus­tralia and the Philip­pines, all of which have pre­sented dif­fer­ent chal­lenges, from sim­ple things like re­learn­ing how to use ho­tel keys to com­plex is­sues around travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“When I was in the Philip­pines, at times it was very stress­ful be­cause of get­ting on and off a lot of boats; when you are par­tially sighted it isn’t the eas­i­est, but it has just felt fan­tas­tic to be trav­el­ling again. What I have learned most though, is that when you go some­where it is OK to ask for help. My in­juries are hid­den so it is up to me to speak up. The re­sponse has al­ways been very pos­i­tive. Whether I am in an­other coun­try, or a lit­tle lost and con­fused at home in Lon­don, peo­ple re­ally are in­cred­i­bly kind and it is very heart­en­ing.”

‘The chat is the thing I can still def­i­nitely do’

Emma in Lon­don after re­ciev­ing a vol­un­teer award at City Hall in 2016

ABOVE: Emma at home in Baw­burgh

BE­LOW: Film­ing in China

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