Woman paralysed after stroking stray cat on holiday


A woman who stroked a stray cat on holiday was left paralysed for a year with a nerve-crippling illness.

Gemma Birch, from Southport in England, was on holiday in Albufeira, Portugal in July 2014 when she befriended a stray black cat she named Catarina.

The 24-year-old let the cat into the hotel apartment where she was staying and fed her milk.

On the final day of the week-long holiday, Gemma started vomiting and became faint during the flight home.

“On the last day of the holiday I was very ill,” she said.

“I was up vomiting through the night, then on the plane home I felt faint and couldn’t keep anything down.

Gemma Birch took 14 months to recover. Source: Facebook/Gemma Birch

“When we got to passport control in England, my stomach bloated, and I looked nine months pregnant despite having no food or liquid in me.”

As soon as she landed, she went straight to Southport Hospital.

The hospital ran tests and doctors found campylobacter bacteria, which is found in raw poultry. This baffled Gemma, who had been pescatarian for a year at that point.

Doctors then asked whether she’d come into contact with any animals.

She spent a week in hospital on a drip for severe food poisoning after doctors concluded that Catarina had rummaged through hotel bins and passed on the bacteria.

Although discharged from hospital, Gemma subsequently fell out of bed at home one night and woke up unable to feel her legs.

Gemma Birch was paralysed after patting a stray cat. Source: Facebook/Gemma Birch

Her dad took her back to the hospital immediately where she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

Within hours, Gemma was paralysed from the hips down and spent three weeks in hospital before spending eight months in rehab, learning how to walk and be independent again.

“I couldn’t do anything independently,” Gemma said.

“I had to rely on nurses to take me to the loo and wash me. I lost control of my bowels and bladder and I couldn’t use my arms or hands because they were so weak.

“GBS is when your body doesn’t know what to do with the infection, so it kills off everything it can, leg and arm tissue and muscle.

“If you don’t receive treatment quick it will affect other muscles like your bladder and bowel, which happened to me.”

Gemma Birch was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Source: Facebook/Gemma Birch

Throughout this period, Gemma was in her final year of university studying for a Psychology degree.

It took 14 months for her to recover.

“Walking on my own took around a year but I still needed crutches to walk far. I was properly recovered around 14 months after going into hospital,” she said.

“Whenever I have an infection or injury, it affects my nerves and tingling sensations, numbness and weakness occur.

“As much as I love them, I couldn’t touch a stray cat now.”

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