A Cramlington woman has found her giggle again following two successful life-saving operations in Spain thanks to the support of the public.
Melanie Hartshorn, who recently returned home, urgently required the surgery as the result of having a severe form of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) that caused all of her joints to dislocate, especially those in her spine and neck, and a severe case of craniocervical instability (CCI).
She initially believed that the complex surgery she needed was only available in the USA and she started an appeal for the £150,000 that was needed.
However, she got in touch with a renowned neurosurgeon in Barcelona, Dr Gilete, after discovering a section of his website dedicated to EDS and CCI and he agreed to take on her case for £80,000.
As it turned out, the total she needed to raise was more than £150,000 as she and her family found out at the last minute that they had to pay for the special medical flights and a second operation was required after the team in Barcelona saw for themselves the issues with her lower spine during the initial surgery.
But as her story gained more local and national attention, donations poured in from individuals, businesses and local organisations and she was able to raise the required funds.
The major surgeries she had involved fusing her skull, the entire cervical spine and her lumbar spine and releasing her spinal cord.
Melanie is now starting gentle physio and practicing slowly to build up the time she spends sitting in a wheelchair.
She said: “I’m managing about two hours at the moment and it is brilliant having no seizures, being able to remember things and concentrate again and move without fear of dislocating my neck or back.
“I honestly can’t put into words just how eternally grateful I am to all those who donated and helped to save my life. Thanks to every single one of you who shared my story.
“Everyone, including the surgeons, say I’m a ‘new woman’ now and totally unrecognisable in comparison to how desperately ill I was before.
“I’ve found my giggle again and have a reason to smile and enjoy doing new things each day that I’ve been unable to do previously.
“It has been great to spend quality time with my little niece. We have done arts and crafts, baking, been to the park, the beach and have many fun things we aim to do over the summer holidays.
“My life is mine and I’m ready to live it again and I’m very excited and hopeful for the future.
“It’s all down to the fantastic surgeons and the amazing generosity of the local public who rallied behind my campaign and raised over £150,000 on my behalf.”
Melanie was in kept in a coma after the first operation as the team in Barcelona discussed what to do next.
She added: “During this surgery, they realised how unstable my lower spine was – it was dislocating while they were operating on my neck, which was very concerning to them as it could cause paralysis.
“So it was decided that after around three weeks to recover, I would have a second operation.
“This surgery was 10 hours long and in it they released my spinal cord and fused my spine from the chest area right the way down to my pelvis. Again, I was kept in a coma for a while afterwards.
“After this operation I was immediately able to move my right leg and foot again, which I had previously been unable to do.”