Bromley resident Mark Sumbler was paralysed from the neck down a week before Christmas last year, following an incident at home where he lost all sensation in his legs and fell down a set of stairs.
Mark, now 56, developed a rare condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which resulted in the numbness and weakness in his legs. He spent the next eight months at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, working with various specialisms to regain his speech and vital movements.
When an individual develops Guillain-Barré syndrome their immune system produces harmful antibodies. These antibodies can attack the nerves in the feet, hands and limbs - causing problems such as numbness and pain. A year since his paralysis, Mark has now regained most of the movement and speech he lost but still requires a walking aid and wheelchair when travelling far.
Mark reflects on the time he spent at Trust and says: “After my fall I was admitted to the Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH), where they confirmed a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré syndrome.”
Mark’s partner Selene, who has aided his recovery, adds: “After he was admitted to the PRUH, his condition deteriorated very rapidly and he soon lost the ability to move or communicate with me. Mark had been in good health, so to see him lying in a hospital bed, lifeless, unable to move or speak - it was scary.”
Just days before Christmas - and as the UK entered its second lockdown - Mark was transferred to King’s College Hospital and placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Selene says: “Due to Covid, I could only spend a short time with Mark on Christmas Day. I wanted him to still experience the joy of Christmas, even if he couldn’t communicate with us. I played him his favourite songs and video messages from his friends and family, which I’d arranged for them to record.”
Mark spent the next four months placed on a ventilator – as he was completely paralysed from the neck down - and required a feeding tube as he was unable to swallow. Mark received intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) – a treatment made from donated blood that contains healthy antibodies used to stop the harmful antibodies damaging your nerves. Due to the extent of Mark’s paralysis, he also received plasma treatment, which involved being attached to a machine that filters out the harmful antibodies that are attacking your nerves.
In April, Mark slowly began to regain some movement and was able to take a few steps near his hospital bed. He was transferred to Orpington Hospital a month later to start his rehabilitation programme.
Reflecting on his journey to recovery, Mark says: “I would often get frustrated during my physio sessions but the team knew how to keep me calm, whilst reminding me that I had to stay motivated and keep challenging myself.
“It felt like an uphill battle sometimes and I don’t think I would have made such a good recovery, had it not been for the team at King’s.”
Mark, who also worked with speech and language therapists to help regain his speech, adds: “I can’t thank the King’s staff enough – they are remarkable at what they do. From the nurses and doctors in the ICU ward at Denmark Hill, to the physios at Orpington Hospital – they were all so caring and supportive. They treated me like family and were always on hand to lift my spirits.”
Selene also adds: “It was often the small touches like bringing him scones from M&S or organising to let him watch his favourite football team play. It made the world of difference and lifted Mark’s spirits.
“On a personal note, I appreciated that they valued how important my physical presence was to Mark’s recovery. The nurses would also check if I was feeling ok and would often remind me that I could lean on them for support.”
In August, Mark was well enough to return home and continue his rehabilitation sessions on a weekly to fortnightly basis.
Professor Akash Deep, Consultant at King’s College Hospital, says: “Mark has come on leaps and bounds since he was placed in our care last year. We are all incredibly proud of how resilient he remained throughout the rehabilitation process. It’s not an easy journey but King’s staff were determined to see him moving around and talking again.”
Earlier this month, Mark and Selene returned to King’s College Hospital – a year after his paralysis – to thank staff who supported him throughout his recovery with Christmas gifts and chocolates.