By Alyce Collins


THIS STUDENT was told that her paralysis was ALL IN HER HEAD by doctors who couldn’t find a cause and discharged her – leaving her family no choice but to HIRE A WHEELCHAIR.

Student, Poppy McCollum (18) from West Sussex, UK, woke up on April 1, 2018 with severe back pain which she assumed was from running. Unfortunately, the pain grew worse and paramedics were called to Poppy’s family home the following day, but they reassured her that it was just muscular, and it would go away.

By April 3, Poppy attempted to stand up despite her back pain, but she couldn’t feel anything below her knees and collapsed onto the sofa nearby. She was taken to hospital, but they insisted that it was merely a pulled muscle.

Poppy is a keen photographer. MDWfeatures / Poppy McCollum

Although the sensation and movement in her legs came and went, within days, both of Poppy’s legs went completely numb from the tops of her thighs down to her toes. She was admitted to hospital where consultants suggested that Poppy had experienced a stroke, but a CT scan came back clear.

Three days after being admitted, Poppy noticed weakness in her arms, and she had no sensation from her elbow to her fingertips. However, as tests came back inconclusive, Poppy was discharged after 11 days in hospital without a diagnosis, with some doctors suggesting it was all in her head.

Poppy’s family hired a wheelchair as she could no longer walk, but she struggled to leave the house as she hated being pushed around because it made her feel helpless. During an outpatient appointment, a neurologist suggested that Poppy may have Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), a condition in which the nervous system doesn’t receive signals from the brain. This diagnosis was eventually confirmed in November 2018.

Poppy before her paralysis, in August 2017. MDWfeatures / Poppy McCollum

Now, Poppy has no sensation or movement from below her stomach down to her toes, and her arms seize up sporadically, causing one or both arms to be paralysed from anywhere between two hours up to three weeks. Despite the devastating diagnosis, Poppy has accepted her condition and refuses to let it hold her back, instead opting to inspire hope in others.

“When I woke up that first day, I thought I had jarred my back from the running I did the day before,” said Poppy.

“It didn’t get any better so the next day we called the paramedics and I was treated at home since I could still move my legs and pass urine.

“They said it was a muscular problem, so I’d be fine. I didn’t believe them because I had intermittent pins and needles in my legs, so it didn’t seem like just a pulled muscle.

“The next morning, two days after waking up with the back pain, I had no sensation from my knees to my feet. I was terrified and didn’t know what to do.

“After a couple of hours, the sensation came back, and I had full sensation and movement for the rest of the day. But then, I was going to bed and I had to physically drag my left leg up the stairs because it had gone completely numb.

Poppy was discharged from hospital without a diagnosis, but still unable to walk unassisted. MDWfeatures / Poppy McCollum

“I woke up the next day and both my legs were paralysed from the tops of my legs to my toes. This time we went to a different hospital and I was admitted for 11 days.

“None of the doctors knew what the problem was or could be. One consultant thought it was a possible stroke at first, but that was ruled out when my CT scan came back clear. The next step was an MRI, but nothing came up on that either.

“Three days after being admitted, my arms felt weak and they didn’t weren’t functioning correctly, so I had to get nurses to assist me. As the day went on, I had no sensation from my elbow down to my fingertips.

“The last option was to have a lumbar puncture, which I did, and it came back with nothing. There were still so many questions and several doctors even told me it was all in my head. I was so angry when they said this. Being told it was in my head when I couldn’t move either of my legs despite trying relentlessly was so frustrating.

“After 11 days, I was discharged without any diagnosis and I could barely walk. I had physiotherapists come and eventually help me to walk without aid, but still with them propping me up. I was told to go home and by the following week I’d be fine.”

Poppy was discharged from hospital without a diagnosis, but still unable to walk unassisted. MDWfeatures / Poppy McCollum

After being discharged, Poppy’s paralysis would come and go at random, meaning she would hobble and walk slowly one day, but be confined to a wheelchair the next. However, Poppy is now confined to a wheelchair as the paralysis in her legs remains constant.

Since receiving her diagnosis in November, Poppy has had many dreams which involve her being able bodied, walking and running without an issue. The dreams feel so real for Poppy, that she often wakes up thinking she will be able to walk – until she catches sight of her wheelchair.

“I became depressed and physically weak. I refused to go out, and if I did, I would hide as much as I could because I hated being pushed around in a wheelchair. I felt like a baby in a pushchair,” said Poppy.

“From the end of April, FND was suggested by a neurologist and we believed it was the cause, but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until November.

“I have no movement or sensation from my lower stomach down to my toes. My arms can seize up and be stuck like that for hours on end, I even lost use of my left arm for three weeks at one point. My right arm can be paralysed for up to eight hours on average, but sometimes both arms can be paralysed at the same time, that’s usually for an hour or two.

Poppy celebrated her eighteenth birthday in March 2019. MDWfeatures / Poppy McCollum

“I hate having these vivid dreams where everything seems normal, but then I wake up and see a wheelchair next to my bed. It makes me realise that I can’t do the things I used to be able to do.

“Over six months later, I have accepted my diagnosis and I started to gain confidence in my wheelchair, even posting pictures of me in my chair on Instagram. I still fear public transport, but I’ve gained more confidence than I ever had before needing my wheelchair.

“There is a chance I could regain sensation and movement but there’s a lot of work to put in. Every patient is different, some recover fully whereas others don’t recover at all.

“I believe I can and will recover, but if I don’t, then I plan to become a Paralympian in wheelchair basketball.

“If you are struggling, it’s important to keep pushing through the battle because if you sit back, you’re not going to go anywhere. Be a fighter and achieve your dreams.”


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