Woman risks ‘internally decapitating herself’ in 1,000-mile treatment journey
A woman risked “internally decapitating herself” as she embarked on a precarious 1,000 miles journey for lifesaving treatment after buying her own bus.
Rachel Pighills, 35, was left with debilitating injuries after she hit her head on a ceiling fan at her new home, WorcestershireLive reports.
She suffered from atlanto axial instability and basilar invagination, causing her brain to start sinking into her spinal canal and her skull sliding down onto her neck.
It meant she could no longer turn her head the wrong way as each time she did, her spine partially dislocated, increasing her risk of paralysis or death.
The freak accident took place in August 2018 when she had been moving into a new house.
She struck her head on a ceiling fan when she stood on a bed.
In a bid to save her life, she and her husband Guy, from Pershore, Worcs, took drastic action.
They bought an old ambulance and embarked on an incredibly hazardous drive to Barcelona to seek treatment from a surgeon who offered to help.
With Rachel lying flat on her back in the ambulance to minimise the risk of injury, Guy drove the ambulance from Pershore to Portsmouth and then boarded a ferry to the city of Santander on the northern coast of Spain in May.
Guy had to drive slower than usual throughout the 1,000 mile roundtrip with every bump in the road posing a serious risk to Rachel.
“It was a lot of pressure, I was very nervous,” he told WorcestershireLive.
“I couldn’t see Rachel in the back so kept having to shout and make sure she was okay.
“I was having to drive very carefully to avoid potholes and road defects. I’ve never driven abroad either so it was a whole new experience with that added pressure.”
The situation became even more perilous when they finally reached Barcelona.
He said: “It was just so hectic and busy – it’s hard to describe. I managed it though and we got there safely.”
The 13-and-a-half-hour surgery in Barcelona involved inserting metal rods into Rachel’s spine and re-setting the position of her skull and brain stem.
The operation was a success and after almost four weeks in hospital, Rachel and Guy drove back to the UK on June 17.
After a 20-hour overnight ferry from Santander to Plymouth, they were faced with a setback when they were stopped by Border Force officials who reportedly accused them of drug smuggling and stripped their ambulance to pieces.
Despite the ‘traumatic’ incident, they eventually returned home to Pershore where Rachel began her long road to recovery.
Guy told WorcestershireLive: “She seems to be doing well. Her breathing has improved massively, she’s not gasping for breath constantly. She can’t move her head – it’s a permanent position.
“She’s got to accept it’s a new way of life. It’s going to have its challenges but she’s feeling a lot more confidence in facing these challenges.”
However, none of this would have been possible if an anonymous benefactor from Warwickshire hadn’t loaned them £130,000 earlier this year.
Describing the moment the mystery woman first approached them with the offer, Guy said: “I was in total shock, I couldn’t believe someone would be so lovely – we’ve never even met this lady.
“It was just so heartwarming to see that there are lovely people out there. I can’t put into words how much it meant to us.”
The couple are now embarking on a huge fundraising campaign to pay their ‘guardian angel’ back and have helped organise several events in Worcestershire during the summer, including a ‘Rock for Rachel’ festival in Evesham.