'I didn't think I'd be here' - Annie, 22, home for Christmas after mouth ulcer nearly killed her
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 December 2019 | UPDATED: 09:14 24 December 2019
After months of hospital food and wondering whether she would be here for Christmas, 22-year-old Annie is "living life to the fullest" just seven months since a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
It has nearly been a year since the 22-year-old visited her GP with a mouth ulcer that wouldn't go away.
But now, after being hospitalised for months with a rare blood disease called very severe aplastic anaemia, she is recovering at home in Ipswich with her family.
Annie had to undergo months of transfusions, chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from her 17-year-old sister Millie - who ultimately "saved her life".
Seven months post-transplant, Annie says she is "grateful" to be spending time with her loved ones this Christmas but admits it hasn't been easy.
She said: "I'm so grateful to be given the chance to spend Christmas with my family, as there were times where I thought I wouldn't be here.
"I wouldn't have been able to get through everything this year without all their love and support."
What is the disease?
Aplastic anaemia is a serious blood condition where the bone marrow and stem cells do not produce enough blood cells. It only affects around one in 500,000 people.
Within the first 24 hours of being diagnosed, Annie had to have three pints of blood and platelets transfused, which basically kept her alive.
Both of Annie's two sisters were then tested as willing donors, and luckily Annie's 17-year-old sister Millie was a perfect match.
Annie then endured extensive chemotherapy and successfully preserved 15 eggs during her treatment, but sadly this meant losing her hair too.
"As you can imagine for a girl who prides herself on her appearance it has been incredibly hard to deal with losing my hair," said Annie.
But now it has begun to grow back, and Annie says this is a "bittersweet" moment.
She said: "I'm starting to feel more myself, apart from the continuing fatigue and chemo brain, but I know this is all a part of the recovery process."
"Luckily I haven't inherited any of my little sister's annoying habits through her donor bone marrow cells," she joked.
"I still get upset about my hair. But I know it's a temporary setback and it is growing quickly. I even had to have a haircut a few months ago."
'I'm very anxious about relapsing'
However Annie's recovery hasn't all been smooth sailing.
In July she had a cytomegalovirus reactivation and was taken back to hospital for further treatment.
Since then her blood levels and neutrophils - white blood cells - have been holding well, but Annie says she "can't breathe a big sigh of relief just yet" as she can reject the transplant within a year.
She said: "After everything that's happened I'm still very anxious about relapsing but I'm taking each day as it comes and living my life to the fullest as much as I can."
Annie and her family have booked a holiday to Turkey next summer and she is hoping to recreate the memories she has missed out on this year - including trips away with her friends.
Annie added: "I am hoping to go back to work on a part-time basis in the spring, as this is when my immunosuppressant medication will be reduced and my own immune system should hopefully start working again by itself.
"My mum has loosened the reins so I have been able to get out a bit more, but again I'm still wary about coming into contact with people who may be ill and could pass on any germs."
Annie is also hoping to arrange another charity ball in 2020 following the success of this year's event in October.
The ball, which was organised by Annie and her family, raised an incredible £14,000 for The Aplastic Anaemia Trust, Ipswich Hospital and Kings College Hospital - all of which have been key in Annie's treatment and recovery.