When you have a baby, you don't expect to be paralysed as a result but that's what happened to Sussex mum Lisa Mann. She tells us about her terrible experience and how she finally walked again.

Giving birth produces all sorts of side-effects, from sleepless nights to stretch marks. But Lisa Mann, a 30-year-old mum from Peacehaven had a different problem she lost the use of both her legs.

Just hours after giving birth to her daughter, Jessica, Lisa's legs collapsed from under her, signalling the start of a rare neurological disorder which was to leave her paralysed from the chest down.

Having looked forward to the joys and responsibilities of being a mum for the first time for so long, she found herself confined to a wheelchair, dependent on other people and, worst of all, unable to even lift her new- born baby.

Remarkably, given the ordeal Lisa has been through, she is now able to walk again.

Lisa's story begins in 2001, when she married her firefighter fiance Chris and fell pregnant on their honeymoon in the Maldives. She gave up her job as a primary school teacher in Worthing and went on maternity leave.

The only thing Lisa was sure of as far as the birth at Worthing and Southlands Hospital was concerned was she didn't want an epidural. She had heard about the possible side-effects and thought it wasn't worth the risk.

After being in labour for 48 hours, however, she changed her mind. The contractions were coming every 30 seconds and the pain was unbearable.

"It was tricky for them to find a time to do it because the contractions were so frequent," she says. "When I was given the epidural, I felt a sharp pain right up my back. My back went cold but I could still feel the contractions." Three hours later, at about 2.30am on the Wednesday, Lisa gave birth to a baby girl. By 4pm she was discharged and it was shortly after that the paralysis took hold.

"I got home, had a bath and as soon as I tried to get out, my body went into spasms," Lisa recalls. "My legs collapsed from under me and I couldn't stand. My husband came running in and he had to carry me to the sofa. Every time I tried to stand up, my legs would give way." Lisa called her GP three times over the next two days and was repeatedly told it was a trapped nerve which was "normal" after pregnancy.

By the Friday, Lisa's condition had worsened. Panicked, frightened and frustrated by what was happening, she forced herself up to answer the phone and promptly collapsed.

"My arms were getting weak as well by this point and I was finding it difficult to pick Jess up," she says.

In desperation, they phoned the Royal Sussex County Hospital and a consultant anaesthetist advised her to go to A&E immediately.

Her husband Chris had to do two trips to the car, carrying Lisa first, then the baby. It was 11pm by the time they arrived and, of all people, it was a passer-by in the street who spotted them struggling and actually ran into the hospital to fetch a wheelchair.

A&E sent her to the maternity ward, who then sent her back to A&E. There was no one available to see her so she was kept in overnight.

"Every minute I was feeling worse, the numbness in both my legs had spread to my arms and was going up my waist and chest. I was absolutely terrified," she says.

"I had a vision of never being able to move my legs again.That night still haunts me to this day, I couldn't understand why I seemed so low on the priority list. I was crying and shaking, my husband was having to hold my baby to me because I couldn't even breastfeed." Lisa was finally seen by a doctor at ten the next morning, by which stage she was totally paralysed from the chest down.

She was immediately given priority, rushed into an ambulance with blue flashing lights and driven straight to the neurological hospital Hurstwood Park in Haywards Heath.

At first, the doctors thought she had a blood clot on her spine and she was given an MRI scan but it came back clear. They then thought she had a blood clot in the brain but again the scan came back clear.

Within 24 hours, she was diagnosed with the rare neurological disorder transverse myelitis. Lisa likens it to MS but says instead of the spinal cord being attacked constantly, as with MS, hers was attacked as a one-off.

For a week and half, Lisa was kept in hospital, where she was put on a drip and given steroids. After 12 hours, she felt a twinge in her toe the first sense of feeling for days. Even walking down the ward for the first time on crutches a few days later, she recalls, was a giant leap forward.

Eventually, Lisa was sent home. While she had regular appointments with a GP, physio and neurologist, Lisa feels she was largely left to come to terms with her condition on her own.

Confined to a wheelchair, she couldn't even bath her baby or put her to bed. She was in a wheelchair for her sister's wedding and, as chief bridesmaid, had to be parked at the altar before the service began, instead of being able to walk down the aisle behind the bride.

"That was really hard. It still gets to me this day," she says.

Having always been an active person, going to aerobics and swimming four times a week, less than four months later she was barely capable of standing up to answer the phone.

"For the first couple of months of having Jess, I basically lived in my nightie," she says. " I sat on the sofa while my husband did all the hard work. He had to do the milk, nappy changing, housework, shopping, cooking, cleaning and feeding.

"I felt awful. I felt I was the worst mum in the world. I had been really looking forward to having a child and hated the fact I couldn't do anything..

Every so often he would help me to the bathroom but every time I tried to stand, my legs would be physically shaking. It was horrible." After leaving Hurstwood Park, she was on crutches for two months, before becoming dependent on walking sticks for almost two years.

Her condition hit home when her daughter started walking before she did. "I used to have nightmares she was falling into a pond and I wasn't quick enough to get to her," she adds.

Lisa missed out on taking her to the park and could only look on while her husband pushed Jessica on the swings. A two-hour shopping trip would also take all day because she could only do 15 minutes at a time and had to have a 30-minute break to recover.

The lowest point, according to Lisa, was the lack of support from some parts of the health service. She got the impression some people were sceptical about her condition from the start, blaming it on psychological trauma from the birth and making her feel as if she had made the whole thing up.

She says she was told "You over-achievers are all the same, just get on with it. Your scans are fine, there's nothing wrong with you." "You are at your most vulnerable at times like that," she says, "I was often in tears and made to feel I was being pathetic. When I changed a nappy on the floor, I couldn't get up because there wasn't the power in my legs.

My legs would be physically shaking,"

The frustration of not being able to use her legs took its toll and Lisa began to wonder if it really was all "in her head".

"You do start doubting yourself, thinking perhaps I should start walking properly," she says. "I'd get so angry. I'd come off the stick, try and put one foot in front of the other and fall straight over. Every time I did it I'd end up ten times worse." Lisa was initially told the paralysis would last two years and she knew if she couldn't walk by Jessica's second birthday, she wouldn't be able to walk again. Although she was still reliant on sticks when Jessica turned two, Lisa was able to move around a lot more than she used to and gradually began to lose some weight as a result.

She had put on four-and-a-half stone since giving birth and soon found the more weight she shed, the more strength she had in her legs.

She persevered and joined Weight Watchers and two years ago, Lisa walked without a stick for the first time. "The phone rang one day and I just walked across the room to answer it. As I picked it up, it suddenly registered what I'd done," she says. "It was brilliant." While she can't quite run, lift her daughter or sprint across the road when the green light is flashing, Lisa does at least feel she has her independence back. "I can't explain how big a difference it made," she says. "I have no shadow of a doubt it was the weight loss that got my mobility back." So overwhelmed by the result, she is now a leader of a local Weight Watchers group herself.

Lisa continues to have pain in her back and legs every day, which she has been told may never go. However, she says the experience has made her stronger and she is optimistic. "I have to push the boundaries. Sometimes you don't know you've done too much until you've done it," she says.

Convinced to this day it was the epidural that led to her paralysis, Lisa lodged an official complaint. The decision by Worthing and Southlands Hospital Trust was they were "satisfied the epidural was satisfactorily performed" and could find "nothing to suggest her current problems were attributable to it". The same procedure has also been carried out in other cases which have had no such side effects.

Lisa, who has since had another baby, son Ethan (she refused an epidural), says: "The fact I can drive again is a huge thing as it means I've got my freedom and independence back. More importantly, I can walk my daughter to school. Something, a few years ago, I never dreamed I'd be able to do."

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