WHEN Dionne Ford first felt unwell, she just thought it was a really bad hangover.
The 28-year-old mum-of-two had been out for drinks with friends the previous Friday and when she went back to work on Sunday, felt feverish and had shaky legs.
Looking back to that day at the end of January, she recalls: “I thought it was just a late hangover. I was at work and I remember phoning my husband saying ‘I really don’t feel well’ and from there it just went really blurred.”
In fact, Dionne, from Portobello, who is a self-employed area manager for Baguette Express, had pneumonia. It was about to leave her first fighting for her life, and then confined to a wheelchair for months.
Earlier this week it emerged that George Michael has been forced to cancel gigs in his comeback tour because he is suffering from pneumonia. The 48-year-old singer is in hospital in Vienna undergoing treatment.
The news follows his decision to pull out of a concert at the Albert Hall last month, said at the time to be the result of a viral infection and a high temperature.
Most of us assume pneumonia strikes when someone has been struggling to fight off a cold or a chest infection, but for Dionne, it struck out of the blue.
Her memories of the night she fell ill are so hazy that she has had to piece together what happened from the accounts of others.
She says: “I later found out that my husband had found me on the hard shoulder in the car by Sherrifhall. I’d pulled over and I was falling in and out of consciousness. I had phoned him, and said for him to come and get me but he said I was absolutely hysterical on the phone, so he had to drive along to see where I was because he knew I was coming from the Gyle.”
When he received Dionne’s call, husband Kevin had piled their daughter, Teigahn, now six, into the car – their son Ryley, 12, was at his grandmother’s. When he pulled up alongside her, he was alarmed to see the condition his wife was in, and decided that waiting for an ambulance would take too long. He managed to get her into his car and sped to the Royal Infirmary.
Dionne, who lives in Portobello, says: “They thought initially it was my kidneys, because I suffer from kidney stones and have kidney infections an awful lot, I’m always in and out of hospital. I was in A&E and they thought it was renal problems again but then I got sent home, because they’d done a scan and found it wasn’t my kidneys so they just thought it was the flu coming on.”
Dosed up on medication to help her cope with the pain, she went home to bed, but at 5am Kevin awoke to find her having a fit and called an ambulance.
As her condition worsened, she was moved first to the high-dependency unit, and then to intensive care.
Doctors were astonished by the sudden collapse of her health. She says: “They don’t know where it came from – it was like a bolt out of the blue. They said that they don’t know how I managed to get whatever strain it was. They put me into a medically induced coma because I couldn’t breathe, and they said to my mum and Kevin that they were taking it minute by minute, rather than hour by hour.”
For ten days, Dionne’s life hung in the balance in intensive care.
She stayed on a ventilator for six days and even after it was removed, she struggled to breathe without help, lapsing in and out of consciousness.
Gradually, she began to regain her strength. But there was still a serious problem. As her brain had struggled to keep her alive, one part of it seemed to have closed down – the part that enabled her to walk.
She was eventually released from hospital, but spent the first three months after leaving the ERI in a wheelchair.
“It was difficult,” she says. “It was a hard start to the year. I had physio and in April got taken into the Western General for two and a half weeks of intensive physio. They were really quite strict and they were great, they were absolutely fantastic. After I left the Western I was very shaky – I was on crutches or a Zimmer.”
Learning to walk again was a slow and difficult process. But she has gone further: not only has she learned to walk – she has learned to run.
Before she fell ill, Dionne barely exercised, but in October she completed the 10K Bupa Great Edinburgh Run, raising money for Waverley Care.
Now she is training for the Bupa Great Winter Run in early January, a challenging 5K race which takes runners around Arthur’s Seat, and hopes to raise more money, either for the same charity, or for the Royal Infirmary’s intensive care unit.
What’s more, Dionne says she’s only just begun – she would like to keep on training and eventually do a marathon.
While it might have been a nightmare, the experience has inspired her to change her life for the better, “I think it was the shock, really. That spurred me on, and it just gave me a fight, and I thought ‘I’m going to get healthy’. It means so much because it could have been so different.”
n Entries for the Bupa Great Winter Run are open at www.greatrun.org/winter. The event, on January 7, 2012, is part of a whole day of athletics in Edinburgh, which includes Olympic champions competing in the UK for the first time in 2012. The Great Edinburgh International XCountry is free to spectators as teams from the USA, GB and Europe battle it out.
ILLNESS PREYS ON THE WEAK
PNEUMONIA is an inflammation of one or both lungs, often the result of infection.
It affects the way the lungs work, leading to a potentially fatal lack of oxygen supply to the tissues.
Bacterial infection is the most common cause. However, fungal and viral infections can also lead to pneumonia. Most pneumonia is bacterial and treatable with antibiotics. Some patients with mild forms of pneumonia can be treated at home.
However, pneumonia is still a common cause of death, particularly among patients with an already weakened immune system, the elderly and very young.
In some severe cases, pneumonia can lead to respiratory failure, due to the air sacs filling with water, as well as lung abscesses and septicaemia.
Even once patients are on the road to recovery, pneumonia can leave a lingering cough and fatigue which can affect them for several weeks.
Sometimes the bacteria causing the infection is resistant to antibiotics, leading to delays in recovery. And in other cases, the infection may be the result of a virus, which can’t be treated using antibiotics. Patients’ own immune systems then have to fight the viral infection by creating its own antibodies.
Common symptoms of pneumonia include a sudden high fever, chills and sweating, rapid and shallow breathing and a shortness of breath. Some may experience sharp stabbing chest pains and a cough that produces an unpleasant sputum.
GEORGE Michael is the latest high-profile figure to confirm he is suffering from pneumonia.
In January 2008 television presenter Jeremy Beadle died after falling victim to the lung condition.
The 59-year-old presenter of Beadle’s About had underlying problems, however, and had been receiving treatment for leukaemia.
Actress Brittany Murphy, above, died aged just 32 in 2009. The main cause of death was given as pneumonia, however, she also suffered iron-deficiency anemia and multiple drug intoxication.
Hollywood legends Fred Astaire, Bob Hope and Leslie Neilsen also lost their lives to the lung infection.
And in music, pneumonia claimed the lives of Luciano Pavarotti, James Brown, Melanie Appleby – one half of the Mel and Kim pop duo – and Scots singer songwriter John Martyn.
Muppets creator Jim Henson was 53 when he died from pneumonia.
And even the famous Geronimo – leader of the Chiricahua Apache – couldn’t beat pneumonia. It claimed his life in 1909 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.