Sarah FowlerHi all, I’ll start by introducing myself. I’m Sarah, 31, and live near Leeds. My life has taken a very different path to how I had planned. At school I was very sporty and loved science. I loved outdoor pursuits such as climbing, caving, walking, but also loved swimming and running 100m or 200m. I was a sprinter not a distance runner, but still I represented Leeds so wasn’t too shabby. At 17 I was asked by my PE teacher if I wanted to do a sports instructor’s qualification. I accepted, did the course alongside my A-Levels, as my overall career goals was to become a nurse but really enjoyed the variety my 6th form years gave me.

After 6th form I took a gap year. At the time my sister was working for a year in Uganda so decided that I was going to go for a month. I was working full time in a nursing home at that point. Being a fairly severe but controlled asthmatic everyone believed I’d be fine. So went for the adventure of my life… I was so excited.

Arriving home after the amazing experience I started university doing my nursing degree the next day. I had got a chest infection when I was in Uganda but had been given antibiotics to take with me. So, when I was more breathless than was normal for me I naturally put it down to that. I was loving every second of uni. New friends and new challenges was just what I needed. The breathlessness continued and in many respects got worse. I ignored it until it put me in hospital. The attacks increased and the tests began, all I could think about was university, I’d made some amazing friends by this time, was keeping up academically but my placements were beginning to suffer.

The consultant I was under was brilliant, she covered every avenue she could think of. But could not find any answers as to why my asthma had changed so dramatically. The eventual conclusion was shocking and puzzling to everyone involved. They believe that the amount of sports I had been doing my school career enabled me to effectively fake my lung function tests. So instead of just using my lungs to get a lung function score I was using my rib cage muscles etc (accessory muscles). By using other muscles I was able to compensate for my breathing deteriorating so never giving a true picture of how my lungs were working. Going on a long haul flight caused too much stress on my lungs and diaphragm allowing the deterioration to show itself. It was a surreal time in all honesty. Things were changing so quickly with my health but was clinging on to university, which at the time was my ‘normal’ or ‘sanctuary ‘ in my fast changing world. By burying myself into study I was able to try to ‘pretend’ (if that’s the right word) everything was okay. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come…

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