A MOTHER is going to great lengths to raise awareness of the devastating illness which changed her life.
Hazel Rumsey, from Bosham, will take to the chilly waters of Lake Windermere in June to swim half a mile in the Great North Swim and raise awareness of osteomyelitis.
In 2010, the 62-year-old developed what she originally thought was just a post-holiday stomach bug following a trip to Granada, in the Carribean. But it soon developed into a serious infection, prominent in the third-world.
She was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a bone marrow infection, in April, 2010.
A stomach bug had travelled into her bloodstream, causing a serious infection of the bone marrow in Hazel’s right leg.
“I just thought it was like any other tummy bug, they’re not uncommon when you go on holiday,” said Hazel.
“When I was first told I had osteomyelitis, I really didn’t know what that meant. I was so relieved it wasn’t bone cancer that I was pleased to have a diagnosis.
“It took a while, perhaps a year and two operations, before I knew this would be a lifetime condition.”
Hazel tackled a whole host of emotions while she was coming to terms with her debilitating illness.
“Coming to terms with a chronic illness is quite a journey for me and for anyone else in a similar position. I took my health for granted and had no real experience of illness.
“I passed through the stages of grieving for my healthy self, disbelief, anger, sadness, more anger and then some acceptance of the difference my illness has made to me.
“The scary bit came later when I realised how near I came to losing my leg, or potentially my life.”
The infection usually occurs in third-world countries and is normally associated with malnutrition, diabetes, drugs and aids, but none of these factors were linked to Hazel.
“It is a horrid illness, it really is. If you saw me you would think there’s nothing wrong with me. It is like cancer, I have to live with it forever.”
After spending three-and-a-half months in St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, Hazel underwent two unpleasant operations involving drilling into the bone and washing out the infected bone marrow. She is now forced to rely on long-term antibiotics and strong painkillers, with surgery an option if the antibiotics fail to control her leg infection.
“The pain is not unbearable now, if it does get unbearable I will be back in hospital immediately. It’s a bit like living with a time bomb.”
Despite her illness, Hazel has her sights set on completing June’s gruelling half-mile swim to raise awareness of the disease and raise funds for the charity CBD, which sends funds to a Ugandan hospital to support children with osteomyelitis.
“If I had been a child in Kenya with this, I would have been on crutches or dead.
“I have had amazing care from the NHS here. I am very happy to raise awareness and do something like the Great North Swim to support those unable to have the excellent care I had.”
Hazel praised the work of staff at St Richard’s and is grateful for the on-going medical support she has received.
“They saved my leg and probably my life, I just feel it is something I can do to say thank you to nurses and doctors and to recognise how good the care was. I want to raise funds for children who have osteomyelitis and do not have access to the excellent care I had and continue to have from the NHS.”
Hazel also thanked the team from Tri it Sports, Chichester, for their encouragement and help preparing for June’s event.
Unable to take part in tennis or other sports due to her illness, Hazel has now focused her attention on swimming, and visits the pool three or four times each week.
“Swimming has given me a new lease of life. It has given me my health and strength. I can now walk up and down the stairs without holding the handrail. If I don’t do it for two or three days, I miss it.”
With her family watching her every splash, Hazel is determined to complete the half-mile swim, taking place from June 14-16.
“I cannot imagine how I will feel. The whole family are coming along; we have made it into a whole-family event. It will be like going back to my childhood because I always used to swim in the lakes when I was younger.”
Through the support of her family, part-time social worker and teacher Hazel is optimistic about her future.
“I did feel sorry for myself, but I don’t now. The main thing is living with it from day to day, I have a very strong family which has made a massive difference.
“I am one of the lucky ones, so many people and children are crippled or worse by this illness. With some support and help, the quality of their lives could be improved so much. No matter how old or ill you are, you can still do something, and show those who are fortunate enough to be here that they can help and give something back.”
You can find out more about Hazel and support her with her fundraising efforts by visiting her just giving page