Suffolk woman tells of traumatic battle with illness that took her sight
- Credit: Archant
A Suffolk woman has spoken about how her cries for help have been left unanswered after a debilitating illness robbed her of her sight, independence and career.
April Wright was diagnosed with severe ankylosing spondylitis (AS) – an incurable arthritic condition – in 2001, although she believes she had early symptoms that were missed by doctors for around a decade before.
The 47-year-old, from Stutton, is now living a life unrecognisable to the one she had before she fell ill.
Passionate about horses, April launched her own equestrian magazine at the age of just 19 and this led to her being featured on BBC Look East during a segment on young entrepreneurs.
April kept her own horses and competed in show jumping and dressage from a young age.
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A former Miss Ipswich runner up and carnival princess, April also had modelling and promotions jobs on the side.
The first signs that something was wrong with April’s health appeared when she was in her early 20s.
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“I was working and I was getting this little bit of stiff neck and I was feeling bit fluey now and again,” she said.
“I started getting quite a lot of swelling in my knees and doctors said it was a bit of arthritis.
“They kept patching me up to keep me going. It was around 10 years of that and eventually things started progressively getting worse.”
April was eventually put on medication for AS and advised to slow down to protect her health.
She had to let go of her horses and make the difficult decision to sell her magazine, Absolute Horse, to another publisher. It is still successful today.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “I saw the doctors and I remember them saying if you don’t give up what you are doing and put your health before your business then you will end up killing yourself either by heart attack or burn out.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make because it was my baby.”
While the medication kept April stable she was regularly jetting off Switzerland to see friends.
But concerns were sparked when April started to get “floaters” in her left eye.
She was diagnosed with iritis – a side effect of AS where the front part of the eye becomes red and swollen.
Doctors treated her with steroids but April lost the sight in her left eye in 2006.
From here it was a fight to save April’s other eye but by this time she also developed cataracts which can be brought on by steroids.
After seeing a specialist April was referred for a course of chemotherapy infusions to bring down the inflammation in the eye before the cataracts could be removed.
However, April said she was not fully informed about the treatment before hand and felt pressured into having it.
April said she suffered a severe adverse reaction to the drug in which her body blew up like a Michelin Man, she developed speech and memory problems, went into a childlike state and was unable to walk or go to the toilet.
The symptoms were so severe it was thought April had suffered a stroke. Her right eye also hemorrhaged.
The episode caused April’s mental health to deteriorate and she had to halt all treatment.
“I just said to my mum one day I didn’t want to live anymore,” April said.
Despite undergoing three major operations April lost her sight in her right eye in 2010.
She has also developed psoriatic arthritis which affects the joints.
Today April relies on round-the-clock care, uses a wheelchair and feels traumatised by her experiences.
She had to sell her house in Somersham and is building a wheelchair accessible bungalow in the garden of her parents’ home in Stutton.
April said she felt unsupported both emotionally and financially by the authorities since her illness.
She is trying desperately to obtain funding for a new wheelchair and to build a hydrotherapy pool to exercise as she cannot weight-bear or use public pools due to her weakened immune system, but she has had her requests turned down.
“You have all these things you need for your health but you try to ask the authorities and they slam the door in your face and you can’t go to work and earn it but you can’t find any advice or help,” April said.
“You are left and you don’t know where to go and don’t get any support.”
April said she wanted to speak out about her experiences to encourage people not to be afraid to ask questions about their health care and to consider their options.