From paralysis to Round the Bays runner video

Rhiannon McConnell / Fairfax NZ

She couldn't go to the toilet alone. It took her a whole day to do a load of washing. But things are looking up for Pearl Freemantle.

A few years ago Pearl Freemantle couldn't go to the toilet alone, walk, hold a conversation or even read a book.

But last month the 59-year-old grandmother completed the 6.5-kilometre Wellington Round the Bays fun run.

So, how did it feel? 

TENACIOUS: Titahi Bay grandmother Pearl Freemantle can finally exercise again. "I feel alive now. The pain is still ...
RHIANNON MCCONNELL

TENACIOUS: Titahi Bay grandmother Pearl Freemantle can finally exercise again. "I feel alive now. The pain is still there, but it's not that raw on fire nerve pain any more."

"I know what endorphins feel like and it wasn't that. This was the satisfaction of starting and finishing something I was told I wouldn't do again," she said.

"There's that sheer enjoyment of just knowing you can."

Doing nothing used to be an abstract idea for the Titahi Bay resident who whitewater rafted, surf-kayaked, bodysurfed, and did 100 press-ups a day.

Fighting back to fit

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During a lunchtime run in September 2009 Freemantle slipped on some slime on a school driveway, landing on both her knees and popping three discs in her back.

So began a battle with ACC, which rejected her claim, saying she had a degenerative problem.

Freemantle was forced to give up her job as a primary school teacher.

"I lived off my savings until they were gone. I nearly lost my home. It was a horrible and demeaning time."

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There have been some dark days since then - one time she spent 37 hours in bed paralysed, not able to reach the phone on the bedside table.

"One time I was stuck on the toilet for seven hours because the nerve pain was so bad. I was screaming out for help and no-one heard me.

"It took me all that time to use the height of my willpower and stubbornness to get off."

Immediately after the accident she could still walk, but in the three months following things gradually got worse and she often blacked out from constant pain that she said was worse than childbirth.

"I had no control over my body. It totally changed my life.

"I felt pretty worthless. There was no release from it. I lost everything and had nothing left."

She was told her injury would only get worse. But her faith and tenacity led to her fighting the pain to regain independence.

When she discovered she could move her toes, she used them to get dressed; when she found she could shuffle her feet, she started doing her washing again.

Without strength in her arms, sometimes it would take a whole day to do a load of washing, taking items to the line two at a time and using her teeth to peg them up.

"It was just doing little things and building those things up."

Six years on, things are finally looking up.

Freemantle said finishing the charity fun run last month was just the start.

Last July she took herself off the sickness benefit and now she's seeking another teaching job.

She's also back out on the surf kayak.

"I feel alive now. The pain is still there, but it's not that raw on fire nerve pain any more."

 - Kapi-Mana News

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