Former Oamaru woman Mel Sloan is back on her feet and hopes to be standing on New Zealand soil soon, after a gruelling surgery in July saved her from paralysis.
Miss Sloan, who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis most of her life, has been stranded in the United Kingdom after she woke one morning in June unable to move and suffering cramping spasms in her legs.
The Oamaru Mail highlighted her plight earlier this year, after she was rushed to hospital and underwent a nine-hour surgery on her spine to prevent further damage to her nerves and spinal cord from compressed discs in her cervical (neck) vertebrae.
Although the surgery had “worked miracles”, Miss Sloan said that her hospital stay had been “horrible”, mostly due to Covid-19 restrictions.
But, looking back now, it had all been worth it, she said.
“I’ve learnt to walk again . . . I have full feeling in my legs back and no more tummy and leg issues. It’s like I’m new,” she said from her home in the UK last week.
“My surgeon deserves a medal, as I have a friend back in New Zealand who had a similar surgery that didn’t quite have the same positive outcomes – I’m very lucky to be walking again.”
She hoped a flight booked for October 31 would bring her back home, after five previous cancellations, mostly due to Covid-19 issues with flying through Australia.
Miss Sloan had been out of hospital since the end of July and had weaned herself off all her opioid medication, “which was a tough few weeks of severe withdrawals, but I’m through the worst of that now”.
After teaching at St Joseph’s School in Oamaru for eight years, she had travelled to the UK in 2012, and was working at a school in Coventry. She had to stop work in March, due to her deteriorating health, and had also been self-isolating since then due to her high vulnerability if she caught Covid-19. As a result, she had to allow her work visa, which was due to be renewed in September, expire.
She said she was happy to be feeling better, but wished she had been able to have the surgery earlier.
“It’s a double-edged sword . . . as had I had this solved two years ago when it first started impacting my time here, I might not be having to leave. I worked so, so hard to get my indefinite leave to remain here, as eight and a-half years of my life is here and people I love dearly too, so the last few months have been emotionally draining.”
Miss Sloan is self-isolating in a bubble with her friend Tom, his family, and a few other friends.
“I couldn’t have survived without them,” she said.
“I’m still shielding, as Covid is now looking worse than March with lockdowns being constant here, and my risks are high.”
A Givealittle page set up to help bring her home had raised $10,140 and was helping cover her costs while she was off work.
“I haven’t been earning, so money has been on my mind. But, thankfully, the Givealittle page has helped me,” she said.
“I had to apply for exceptional assurance, as my visa ended end of August, but I have had no reply from Immigration UK, so they can’t be too bothered.”
She was now just trying to keep busy and spend time with her “bubble family” until she had to say goodbye.
“I’m so grateful for all the support from home and in the UK.”
Miss Sloan is now keen on getting “life back on track” and hopes to teach once back in New Zealand and “recover emotionally” with her family.