Olivia Fairclough hit the headlines last year when she was left paralysed following a horse riding accident in Egypt and her brother Trevor launched a fundraising campaign to get her home.
It was a frightening time for Olivia – she had a broken back, three broken ribs and damaged lungs, but was in a hospital where people spoke very little English. She had no idea what was going on and to make matters worse, her travel insurance had lapsed so she would have to pay for any treatment she received.
The 32-year-old from Eaglescliffe says she was amazed when donations flooded in from Teesside and around the world to help pay for her treatment and fly her home – a move that was supported by the Great North Air Ambulance and consultants at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
“It’s amazing that people donated money to get me home – that’s what’s keeping me going!” she said.
On hearing about Olivia’s situation on BBC Tees, Professor Stephen Bonner, clinical director of critical care, contacted Trevor and offered to help with the repatriation.
Prof Bonner enlisted the help of his Arabic speaking colleagues including Mr Waleed Hekal, consultant spinal surgeon, and Dr Elrasheed Ellidir, consultant physician, who liaised with doctors in Cairo to determine the extent of Olivia’s injuries, the surgery she required and the safest way to fly her home.
Olivia had been working in Cairo for a year teaching horse riding and was waiting for her turn to jump her horse when the accident happened. She believes the horse reared over backwards and fell on her but she has very little recollection of the incident.
“I just remember waking up on the sand and not being able to breathe, I thought I was going to die,” she said.
“I was just lying there in hospital not being able to do anything, so to find out my brother and the local community had come together to raise money for me to get home was just so overwhelming. They raised £32,000 in nine days which was amazing. I’m so grateful to everyone.”
Prof Bonner said: “I heard Trevor talking on the radio and every time he phoned the hospital people were speaking Arabic to him and he had no idea what was going on.
“We have lots of doctors that speak Arabic at James Cook so we were able to talk to them and work out what treatment needed to be done there and what could be done here and to help in trying to get her safely home.
“We had the x-ray images sent over and they were discussed in a meeting here with all our top spinal experts.
“After the surgery the main thing was to get her back here before there were any complications.”
Olivia underwent surgery – she now has three pins in her spine – and four days later she was flown to the spinal unit at James Cook.
She was warned she could spend up to a year in hospital but her determination saw her discharged in four months – every time her consultant gave her a goal she smashed it in half the allotted time.
The thought of being able to ride again and possibly compete in Paralympic dressage was what kept Olivia going.
However, recent x-rays show she has developed curvature of the spine so for now her dreams of getting back in the saddle have had to be put on hold.
“I can be around horses but I can’t ride them anymore which just about kills me,” she said.
“I’m just urging people not to take anything for granted – even putting your socks on! It takes most people two minutes to get dressed but it can take me half an hour now!”
Despite everything she has been through Olivia is setting herself a number of challenges for the future including finding other ways to get involved with horses and planning a trip back to Cairo later this year for a holiday.
“Where there is a will there is a way!” she said.