'I'm still winning' - Yorkshire woman on her fight to find joy after sudden paralysis blow

Waking up one morning to find she couldn't move her legs, Tiffany Pearson had initially refused to believe she could possibly be paralysed.

Saturday, 23rd November 2019, 6:00 am

This week marks a decade since that day, and it's been a rollercoaster ride, she says. The lows of darkest depression and the highs of every small victory.

Paralysis, caused by a narrowing of her spinal cord, means that she will never walk again. But that doesn't mean she can't do exactly what she wants.

She has just had to find her own way.

Tiffany Pearson from Whitby, who was paralysed at 18 by a narrowing of her spinal cord. This month she marks a decade since she lost use of her legs, but she is finally in a good place both physically and mentally and now in an electric wheelchair, helping her with independence and freedom. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

"I could have quite happily given up," says the 28-year-old from Whitby, who is paralysed from the chest down. "I wanted to end it all.

"I just thought it couldn't get any worse than this - I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can now.

"I know now, that just because I can't walk, just because I've got respiratory failure, just because I can't do everything for myself, it doesn't mean I've not got a life.

"You've just got to find your own way to get there."

This month marks a decade since Tiffany Pearson, from Whitby, lost use of her legs, but she is finally in a good place both physically and mentally and now in an electric wheelchair, helping her with independence and freedom. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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Narrowing of the spinal cord

At her home in Whitby, Miss Pearson is at ease. The assisted living flat, in a picturesque terrace perched high over the harbour, is engineered to her needs.

There are ramps, wide corridors, support workers with whom she is incredibly close.

Tiffany Pearson from Whitby, who had meningitis as a young baby, had started to notice she was tripping over a lot when she was 16. At the age of 18, she was diagnosed with a narrowing of the spinal cord.

Blushing, she points out the chunks of wood missing from the skirting boards. It's taken some practice, she laughingly admits, to navigate in her new electric wheelchair.

But this is Miss Pearson's domain. At 18, she had lost her independence, her freedom, when she was paralysed quite suddenly.

It was a narrowing of the spinal cord, leaked fluid pressing against her spine. The first symptoms had started at 16, tripping over her own feet.

Despite countless tests, doctors had thought it might be cerebral palsy. At 18, on crutches, it was confirmed as a spinal cord injury, and she was told surgery was the only option.

Tiffany Pearson, from Whitby, pictured on her 18th birthday. Shortly afterwards, she was to be paralysed after an operation to ease the narrowing of her spinal cord.


"My spine, at 18, looked like a 60-year-old's," said Miss Pearson, a former student at Eskdale School and Whitby Community College.

"The risk, with surgery, was that I could end up paralysed.

"But if I didn't do it, I would have been paralysed from the neck down within six to 12 months."

Within days of the surgery, Miss Pearson woke to find she couldn't move her legs.

Tiffany Pearson, now 28 and from Whitby, blogs about her experience and wants to share her story in the hope of inspiring others suffering after spinal cord injury. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

"I'd gone to get up, but I couldn't move from the waist down," she said. "I couldn't move at all. My mum thought I was joking.

"At first, I didn't want to believe," she adds. "I tried to do everything that I knew I couldn't.

"I was in denial that it had happened. I might have been more accepting if it had been a car crash."

Journey of recovery

Miss Pearson was to be sent for spinal rehabilitation in November 2009, but it would be May before she was seen. By this point, she says, depression had set in.

She was already slim but now, uninterested in the world around her, she was no longer eating much, and her weight dropped dangerously low.

"I didn't want to do anything, I thought I might as well give up. I kept on blaming myself, sometimes I would ask 'why me?'"

"I'm more accepting now, 10 years on. I will never walk again, but that doesn't mean it will stop me from doing what I want to do."

It's the small victories which she takes pride in, says Miss Pearson. She may never be a makeup artist, but she can hold her own, finding her own way to navigate the brushes.

She is determined not to let her paralysis, having already taken so much of her life, rule her future.

"I've had 10 years of highs, of lows, of struggles," said Miss Pearson, who blogs about her experience under the page My SCI Journey: 10 Years Paralysed.

"I've had my bad days, and my worst days, but I've always had my family around. That's got me through.

"I haven't given up. I'm not able to walk, I'm not able to do what other 28-year-olds can. But I can still do things, in my own way. And I'm still winning."