NI woman confined to bed for 12 years making most of life after miraculous recovery

A woman who was bedridden for 12 years has said she is making up for lost time after a miraculous recovery which now sees her on her feet.

Michelle Cowan, 39, was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) when she was just 15 after complaining of feeling weak to her family.

Her condition spiraled in the months afterwards, leaving Michelle unable to leave her bed until the age of 28, missing out on most of her 20s.

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the Enniskillen woman started to take some slow steps such as moving up in her bed and with the help of intense physio was able to get out of the bed and into a wheelchair for the first time.

Fast forward to today and now Michelle travels the length and breadth of Ireland, is currently completing a Master’s degree and is due to star in an upcoming performance at the Ardhowen Theater in her hometown.

“We thought the symptoms were only going to last 24 hour but they continued to deteriorate quite rapidly,” Michelle told Belfast Live.

“Within a couple of months my muscles started to go downhill, I was around 14 stones when I got sick and at my worst I was down to five stones. I’m nearly s6ft so that was quite scary.

“I lay bed-bound and tube-fed for 12 years, I was flat for that whole time.

“My whole body had spasms and my muscles contracted. There were days I can’t remember and other days that felt like years.

“Doctors didn’t really know what was happening to me and I didn’t know from day to day if I was going to survive.

With a lot of work from local carers, physios and her family, Michelle’s first move was to sit upright in her bed before she was eventually able to leave her room and go outside for the first time in well over a decade.

Michelle paid tribute to the conductive education group Buddy Bear Trust in Dungannon, where she was eventually able to take her first steps.

“On my 28th birthday I sat in a chair for the first time in 12 years, and it was only for two minutes and straight back into bed again,” she added.

“That was one of the points where I started to think things were going to improve.

“You can imagine not being around society or being closed away, how big of a deal it was to even to get outside again then.

“Someone suggested to go down to Buddy Bear in Dungannon, so they said for me to come down and see what they could do for me.

“I went there twice a week and did exercises tailored to my needs for a year. Eventually one day my foot took its own step, and it was that day that I realized I was going to get out of this.

“Bit by bit I was taking more steps with the help of five people holding me up.

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“Any achievement I made was praised and celebrated, and it was so meaningful to realize that all your work and years of pain was actually coming to an end.”

While the pandemic was frustrating for Michelle after so many years of isolation herself previously, her physical condition improved immeasurably during that time, and now she is making the most of life by throwing herself into every challenge she meets.

“The one thing I wanted to do was gain some education back, when I was 15 I had to leave school before I had any GCSEs.

“I got into South West College and I just scraped getting in, and I got the love for education then.

“I went on to do a business foundation degree and then my degree, and I’m currently working on an international business master’s degree.

“I’ve been give the part of Dolores in Fermanagh BrightStarz performance of Sister Act now in June, I still have difficulty walking so my carer is going to help me walk around the stage.

“It was all only possible with the love and support of my friends and family, and I’m so grateful for that.

“I’ve got a love for life now and I’ll do anything – if anyone says it’s physically possible I’ll do it.

“I’m 40 this year but I feel like I’m a teenager again because I lost all those years.”

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