I thought my daughter was just joking when she said she couldn't feel her legs – then my world came crashing down

I thought my daughter was just joking when she said she couldn't feel her legs – then my world came crashing down

A MUM thought her daughter was only joking when she said she couldn’t feel her legs – but the reality was terrifying.

Debbie Picken, from Bath, has described the horrifying events in May 2017 when her four-year-old daughter Clover fell ill with a mystery virus.

At first, it seemed like she had the flu.

However, just a week after her symptoms began, she began to lose feeling in her legs and feet.

Debbie rushed her to the hospital where, by process of elimination, Clover was eventually diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

What followed were many sleepless nights, a lengthy hospital stay and months of physiotherapy to get the tot back on her feet.

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Now five years on, Debbie looked back on that terrifying summer.

"In May 2017, she had flu-like symptoms for around a week and then didn’t feel any better. I ended up getting her seen by the out of hours doctor at the hospital a few days later, as it was a bank holiday, and there was a confirmed case of scarlet fever at her nursery, and she had developed a small rash on her chin.

“The doctor said it was a virus, but not scarlet fever and so we went home with instructions to give her Calpol.

"That same day but in the evening, I took her back to the hospital as she suddenly developed a cough which wouldn’t even allow her to pause for breath.

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“Her vital signs were checked and I was advised to just let the cough run its course, so I took her home at 2am when it eventually stopped," Debbie explained.

Over the next few days, she expected Clover to recover.

However, she continued to suffer from fatigue and spent most of her time asleep on the floor, in between short periods of play.

When, after a week and the four-year-old was no better, Debbie noticed that Clover was falling over more often and had developed a limp, so she took her back to the GP.

From there, they went to the paediatric assessment unit at Bath's Royal United Hospitals (RUH).

There, she was diagnosed with an ear infection, which was thought to be causing Clover's dizziness.

"At that stage, there wasn’t anything tangibly wrong with her that suggested a serious illness," Debbie explained.

"It was only when we got home and she wasn't in the pushchair or the car seat that she was having to walk again and she told me she couldn’t. She was always lying on the floor pretending to be a mermaid, so when she said she 'couldn’t move her legs', I thought she was messing around."

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

The NHS describes Guillain-Barré syndrome as “a very rare and serious condition” that affects the nerves.

It mainly affects the feet, hands and limbs, causing problems such as numbness, weakness and pain.

While most people will eventually make a full recovery it can be life-threatening and some people are left with long-term problems.

It affects people of all ages but is most common in adults and males.

The initial symptoms are:

  • numbness
  • pins and needles
  • muscle weakness
  • pain
  • problems with balance and co-ordination

These symptoms may continue to get worse over the next few days or weeks before they start to slowly improve. 

People are advised to contact their GP if you notice any of these early symptoms.

You’re advised to call 999 or go to your nearest A&E if:

  • has difficulty breathing, swallowing or speaking
  • cannot move their limbs or face

This is a medical emergency and the person needs to be seen in hospital as soon as possible.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is thought to be caused by a problem with the immune system, the body's natural defence against illness and infection.

Normally the immune system attacks any germs that get into the body. But in people with Guillain-Barré syndrome, something goes wrong and it mistakenly attacks and damages the nerves.

But when Clover said she couldn't even walk to the loo, Debbie realised that she wasn't pretending anymore.

She immediately rang the hospital for advice.

"At the back of my mind, I was thinking of an illness a friend had had a few years ago called Guillain-Barré syndrome which causes paralysis and usually is triggered by a virus. The doctor I spoke to said Guillain-Barré was unlikely and as she had already settled to bed and still had some movement in her legs she would be ok at home for the night, then I could update them in the morning," Debbie said.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a very rare and serious condition that affects the nerves. It is thought to be caused by a problem with the immune system, the body's natural defence against illness and infection.

Normally the immune system attacks any germs that get into the body. But in people with Guillain-Barré syndrome, something goes wrong and it mistakenly attacks and damages the nerves.

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The next day, Clover was taken back to the hospital for tests. Her mum explained: "They initially thought it was a brain tumour or meningitis, but once they had excluded those possibilities they turned to Guillain-Barré.

“Because it’s neurological, it’s hard to test for and they sort of diagnose it by ruling out everything else.”


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