By Liz Crudgington
A Thanet primary school worker was left totally paralysed and unable to breathe after being struck down by a rare illness when he contracted Covid-19.
Nigel Avery, 55, has so far spent more than 50 days in critical care at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital after developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome – a condition where the body’s immune system attacks itself after an infection, damaging the nerves. It can disrupt signals to the brain, causing paralysis – including of the muscles needed to breathe.
He is now able to be off the ventilator for short periods of time and his family have vowed to raise money for the unit where he is being treated as a thank you to staff for nursing him back to health.
Daughter Kayleigh said: “The staff have been absolutely amazing. He is making incredible progress but it is going to take a really long time to get back to where he was.
“Before this, he was fit and healthy and not the sort of person to get sick at all. It was a real shock to everyone in the family and every day feels like a rollercoaster of emotions when he is so ill.
“No one knows what the future will hold for him but he is strong and determined, and most of the time really good-humoured about everything.”
Nigel, who lives in Ash and works as a business manager at Bromstone Primary School and as a driving instructor, initially experienced weakness in his legs in March. His condition deteriorated within a few days and, after being initially admitted to the QEQM hospital in Margate, he was quickly transferred to critical care at Canterbury.
He had been planning a 100-mile sponsored walk with his beloved dog Martha in April, and his family have decided to walk for him in May instead, raising money for East Kent Hospitals Charity.
Kayleigh said: “We all felt pretty useless so we thought the walk was one thing we could do for him, and we could raise money for the unit at the same time.
“We’re on track to hit 100 miles really soon so I think we will aim for 200 instead.
“Martha is his best friend, and they have been really missing each other. The staff realised this and managed to get him on a portable ventilator so they could bring him outside to see her.
“The second time they did it he had regained some movement and he was able to smile and it was the most fantastic moment.
“His wife Hilary, my brother and I, and the whole family, are so grateful for the support and help the team have provided to my dad and us all. No question is too silly, no worry too small, and they have handled it all with kindness, compassion and honesty.”
Nigel is having to relearn how to speak, and will have to learn how to sit, stand, and walk, as he regains the use of his limbs.
Kayleigh said: “He’s a joker, and a real character, so not being able to communicate has been really difficult for him.
“He gets frustrated at our lack of lipreading skills but now he has the speech valve things are improving and we are all hopeful that he will continue his recovery.
“We’re overwhelmed with the amount of people who have donated so far and so thankful for their support in helping us say thank you to the fantastic hospital staff.”
Dee Neligan, senior charity officer for East Kent Hospitals Charity, said: “We’re very grateful to Kayleigh and her family for taking on this fundraiser while her dad is still so poorly.
“We wish him a speedy recovery and I know the whole team in critical care at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital will continue to give him the very best care.”
To donate to the fundraiser, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kayleigh-raine