Skydive for Hellesdon High student struck by rare condition

A Hellesdon High School student who went to sleep with backache and woke up the next day unable to move her legs is still wheelchair-bound 14 months later.

Eleanor Ward had been complaining about backache for a week but after being told to rest she woke up on June 12, 2010 to find she could not move her legs.

The teenager had suffered from a rare condition that affects around eight in one million people and over a year later remains in a wheelchair.

Mum Andrea Ward, of Beck Lane, Horsham St Faith, said her eldest daughter, now 14, had complained about being unable to walk upstairs to bed so went to sleep on the sofa.

In the morning she found Eleanor hallucinating and paralysed from the waist down.

She was rushed to hospital where she stayed for a day until being transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

Mrs Ward, 42, said: 'We wondered what on earth was going on. It was so surreal. It does not enter your head that she could have neurological problems and something that can go on to be life changing, which it is.'

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Eleanor said: 'I was suffering from backache for about a week. I woke up and I was paralysed. It was very, very scary and quite daunting.'

Mrs Ward and her husband Martyn, 43, were told Eleanor suffered from acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare condition that causes damage to the myelin sheath which helps the nervous system function.

'We weren't sure if the paralysis would move to her upper body as in certain circumstances it can affect your lungs,' she said.

'It was so unreal at the time. You don't realise in the middle of it all, but looking back it was really scary.'

Eleanor spent two weeks at Addenbrooke's, 10 weeks at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and then four months in rehab at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury.

During this time she even continued her schoolwork, spending an hour a day during the week working. She returned home in December and was back at Hellesdon High in January.

Mrs Ward said: 'She is wheelchair-bound, but has physio to get her walking on callipers and standing with adult supervision. We are talking about a girl who used to go horse-riding and do amazing things. This has knocked us all sideways.'

Throughout Eleanor has tried to stay positive and is determined to recover and go on to be a vet or physiotherapist.

She said: 'I know I am going to get better. If I try hard I will make sure I am going to get better.'

Mrs Ward added: 'She has been absolutely marvellous. She is not a typical 14-year-old. To say I am extremely proud aren't enough words. She has been courageous and never made a fuss. To me she is one in a million.'

Her parents are currently trying to adapt their home, while carers help them in the morning and evening.

Mrs Ward gave up her job at the Nationwide Building Society, which she had for 23 years in London and at Norwich's St Stephens branch, while Mr Ward works as a fleet co-ordinator for Fountains.

The couple are currently trying to raise �15,000 to buy a functional electrical stimulation cycle, which will provide her with a chance to exercise and help her long-term health.

They have approached businesses and other groups for help, and the Phoenix Charity Darts League is helping to raise money for them.

On August 27 a friend of the family is going to make a skydive to help.

Lewis Robson, of Laburnum Close, Horsford, was bought the skydive by his parents for his 18th birthday, but the warehouse worker decided he'd use it as a chance to raise money for Eleanor, who described him as brave.

Mrs Ward said: 'I am tough, but it made me cry. Through all of this we have seen such a different side to human nature. I was so touched that someone else thought about our family.

'I just think for an 18-year-old to think about someone else and to do this is such a credit to his parents.'

To sponsor him call 01603 893075.