137 Medics Work To Save Dorset Mum's Life
19 November 2013, 18:14
A Dorset mum diagnosed with a rare life-threatening condition just days before her daughter's wedding was able to attend the big day after 137 medics worked round the clock to save her.
Frances Wilkins, 56, was rushed to Royal Bournemouth Hospital unable to move her arms and suffering with an acute headache after being struck down with a mystery illness.
She underwent days of tests for infections, cancers and meningitis but all failed to identify the cause of the symptoms - as the date of daughter Elizabeth's nuptials approached.
The chances of Mrs Wilkins watching Elizabeth walk down the aisle were "narrowing by the minute'' and doctors agreed to perform a specialist MRI scan out-of-hours.
Consultants were stunned when the test returned results they had "never experienced before'' and returned Mrs Wilkins' diagnosis - less than a week before the wedding.
Mrs Wilkins was found to be suffering with Churg-Strauss syndrome, an extremely rare life-threatening disease attacking the respiratory system and vital organs.
The mother-of-three immediately started a course of treatment, including chemotherapy, but was left so weakened it was thought unlikely she would be able to attend the ceremony.
But on the day, Mrs Wilkins was able to travel to the venue by ambulance and - supported by a nurse - watched Elizabeth walk down the aisle to become Mrs Bolton.
Bride Mrs Bolton, who married Richard Bolton, said: "I didn't know mum was going to be there until the last minute.
"When I'd walked down the aisle, I just ran over and gave her a big hug, it was really emotional.''
Proud Mrs Wilkins thanked staff at Royal Bournemouth Hospital's Acute Medical Unit (AMU) for their care.
"This hospital has been fantastic and the care I received on AMU was outstanding, especially the way they got me to the wedding,'' she said.
"It was way beyond their jobs and I wouldn't have made it to the wedding without them.''
Mrs Wilkins had been plagued with a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms over two months ahead of her daughter's big day, on August 2 this year.
She was rushed into AMU in the early afternoon of July 25, after suffering an acute headache and loss of movement in both arms.
Medical staff carried out a series of tests, with Mrs Wilkins receiving intravenous antibiotics to help establish what was causing her symptoms.
The following day, on July 26, Mrs Wilkins was visited by consultant Tanzeem Raza as her daughter sat by her bedside.
"Dr Tanzeem Raza came to check up on mum on Friday afternoon and I just told him to get my mum well as I was supposed to be getting married the next Friday,'' Mrs Bolton said.
"I couldn't imagine mum not being there on the most important day of my life.''
Dr Raza requested a specialist MRI scan to be carried out that evening.
"I spoke urgently with my radiology colleague, Dr Paula McAlinden, who went out of her way to perform a very specific type of MRI scan which is generally not available out of hours,'' Dr Raza said.
The results of the scan were so unusual that Dr McAlinden, a consultant radiologist, phoned Dr Raza at home to discuss them.
Mrs Wilkins, married to husband David, was then diagnosed with Churg-Strauss syndrome and immediately underwent intravenous steroids and chemotherapy.
"The team in AMU were fantastic pushing through my scan outside of normal hours - if they hadn't diagnosed me when they did, I either would have had very severe brain damage or not been here at all,'' Mrs Wilkins said.
"There aren't many people in the world who have Churg-Strauss syndrome and Dr Raza's diagnosis was life-saving.''
Mrs Wilkins was left "severely weakened'' by the treatment and staff set up an iPad with FaceTime so she could watch the wedding over the internet, from her hospital bed.
However, sister Kelly Spaven reorganised the rotas so Mrs Wilkins could be escorted to the wedding by staff nurse Beth Tucker, who had played a big role in her hospital care.
On August 2, Nurse Tucker did Mrs Wilkins' hair, nails and make up for the occasion and travelled with her by ambulance to the wedding, which took place at Kingston Mauward near Dorchester in Dorset.
"Frances being rushed into hospital was a horrible scenario for the whole family and if there was one thing that we could have done to improve things, getting Frances to the wedding was it,'' Sister Spaven said.
"I am so proud of my team as everyone went out of their way to ensure this could happen.''
Mrs Wilkins is hoping for a good recovery - though may have permanent damage from vasculitis she suffered - and continues to take medication.