Malaria Is On Your Doorstep. It Happened To Me, It Could Happen To You
Thank you so much for having me here today.
It is an absolute honor – and also a little strange for me…
According to doctors, various experts and my medical report, I really shouldn’t be here today.
I thank my lucky stars to be alive but also to still have my mind, my speech and my mobility ALL of which I was told would not be there if I did survive – my outcome was die and in the very slim chance of survival –be severely brain damaged. My mum was devastated she was either going to lose her only daughter or be caring for her like a baby, feeding her and changing her nappies for the rest of her life.
If what happened to me can help save just ONE life then everything I went through was worth it.
So, I’ll start at the beginning!
I cycled from London England to Rio Brazil, that is 3000 miles in 5 weeks.
A little bit crazy!
I was cycling for charity and the plan was to arrive in Rio the day before the start of the Olympics games, I was to host the games.
Such a perfect story, cycle to Rio for charity and then host the games. It was like a dream.
Before I got on my bicycle to take on this slightly insane challenge. I went to 2 different doctors about safety and inoculations especially because I was cycling in remote parts of Brazil. I had every jab under the sun, yellow fever, Hepatitis A and B, rabies… the list goes on – it cost me about $500. I also took advice about Zika and both independent medical professional told me that I didn’t need to take any anti-malarial tablets – they checked my route and said I was going in a low risk zone so all would be absolutely fine.
Great I was ready to go, route planned, every precaution taken.
I completed the cycle challenge and actually got stronger and stronger as it went on. I made it to Rio on the planned time and date, 4 August last year, 2016. The finish was at the top of Christ Redeemer.
What a way to finish such an epic journey – I got to the top but felt so strange, almost out of it and I had little sense of joy or achievement from what I had just done. I just felt weird inside and since the night before had had a stomachache.
“All I could think was ‘nooooo I can’t be unwell, I’m working, it is a dream to be part of the games. I can’t possibly be unwell!’”
Typical me I just got on with things doing press at the Olympic Park, but by the time I got to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games I was in excruciating pain, had the worst diarrhea and started to be sick – blood was coming out of me from my mouth and my bottom. I was lying on the stone floor of the Olympic Stadium toilets – but all I could think was ‘nooooo I can’t be unwell, I’m working, it is a dream to be part of the games. I can’t possibly be unwell!’
I ended up at the doctors; they put me on 2 drips and told me I was severely dehydrated. I was like “great dehydration just shove those drips in and I can get on with my job!” They did and I left the hospital and 4 hours later I was lying on the floor bleeding everywhere, screaming – I could hardly move.
I went back to the hospital, using Google translate to explain what was going on through tears, I even took photos of what was coming out of me to show them. Little did I know that Google translate would become mine and my mum’s best friend!
I was immediately admitted to hospital and needles stuck in every bit of exposed skin. I lied there for 3 days in my own excrement, blood and vomit not knowing what was going on, so incredibly scared but at the same time convincing myself I was fine and that I would wake up better, leave and carry on with my job. I even kept texting my agent Sam saying…
‘I’ll be fine, I’m just not feeling great but I’ll be fine to work tomorrow, please tell them I’ll be fine to work tomorrow.’
On the 3 day, my health insurance was called, my mum was informed, my friends were told, the British consulate got involved. My kidney’s had failed, my colon and pancreas had stopped working and I was told that I was DYING.
I will never forget the moment when they pulled back the curtain and in broken English told me that my body was failing and I was dying.
I was transferred to another hospital, a bigger one with an intensive care. After a day of persuading my health insurance to take the case so I could be admitted I was finally moved via a 1970’s style ambulance, I was lying there not strapped in. I don’t think it even had straps! I was absolutely petrified and all I could think about was that the doors of the ambulance flinging open and I was going to fly out of the back straight onto the pavement – like some weird comedy sketch!
I made it, after hours in A&E screaming at everyone ‘No Portuguese, English’ I was taken to intensive care, put on oxygen and a dialysis machine.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. It suddenly hit me that this was serious.
It must be as my mum was already on a plane flying over. This is not something my mum would do lightly.
By the time my mum arrived I was throwing up constantly, lying in blood and diarrhea and could hardly breathe. She walked in the door of intensive care; I desperately tried to reassure her I was ok. I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want her to see me like that. She had tears in her eyes and I started to cry – I began to choke – my lungs were already collapsing.
‘I’m sorry mum, I’m so sorry.’ I said.
‘This is one way to get me to Brazil.’ My mum said.
She walked out of the room and I felt so incredibly heartbroken. How could I do this to my mum, to my family, to my friends? What is going to happen? Am I going to die? I felt so scared and alone. I was in a hospital in Brazil, I couldn’t speak the language and nobody knew what was wrong with me.
The doctor went to speak to my mum; she had only been there for an hour.
He said ‘Joy, I fear for your daughters life, I need you to sign this form. Her organs are failing, her body is dying, we need to put her in a coma and intubate her otherwise she will die in the next 24 hours.’
My mum signed and made the choice not to tell me what was going to happen.
I was deteriorating fast.
My brother had flown over the next day and then my agent.
I was put in a coma and on a life support machine.
This was day 4.
“The oldest disease in the world. One of the most deadliest diseases. The one that has already killed half of mankind. The one that very nearly killed me.”
I woke up during the operation when they put the breathing machine in my lungs. I was paralyzed but the sedation was minimal due to how critically ill I was. I was choking and could feel them pulling at my head and hair. I couldn’t move, open my eyes or speak. I knew that I was in the hospital and soon figured out that they didn’t know I could hear or feel. I was so distressed.
At this point they feared not only for my life but that I would be brain damaged, brain nodes were put on my head.
My mum sat by my side and every day that I was in the coma wrote me letters.
I would like to read you an extract of the first letter whilst you can see this picture. When she arrived she was greeted by my friend Annie who was already in Rio, and at this time, this is the same picture she was looking at but in real life.
I just needed to show what you looked like from our eyes. When you are better it is your time … no need to prove to yourself anymore. We all love you so much.
Very shocking when I arrived at the hospital, Annie looked like a zombie from the Walking Dead. She was fantastic as the insurance messed up my accommodation. It was too far away, the doctor said this place is far too dangerous, you need to be near to the hospital so…I stayed at your Air BnB. Annie gave me wine and cake with this shocked look in her eyes. I had a laugh with her. Not sleep just wine induced.
Picture of you in my head please you HAVE nothing to prove.
Please be with me.
I prayed and I cried
I’m not sure what everyone’s perception of a coma is – but maybe this will change it.
I was hooked up to every machine, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t see – BUT I COULD HEAR. I knew when my mum, my brother, my friend, my agent were in the room. I could hear them talking but they didn’t know.
It was and has been horrendously distressing. I was desperately trying to show my family and the doctors that I was there. I wasn’t dead yet and I wasn’t brain damaged. I could hear them saying I was getting worse and they still didn’t know what it was.
The doctors told my family that I couldn’t hear and my reactions were just my nervous system.
They were NOT – they were ME trying to communicate!
I was in so much pain.
I concentrated so hard and figured that if used every last bit of anything I had I could use my hands.
I focused so much that I started to bang on the bed whenever my mum was in the room. She realised I was still there and I was fighting.
I had to show her that I wouldn’t leave her. I would never give up.
The doctors they thought differently – they restrained me!
I got worse each day of the coma, by day 10 I had to be aggressively resuscitated but they said the chances of me surviving the night were slim. My friends and family were told to prepare themselves.
The doctors still didn’t know what was wrong. I had been hospitalized for 10 days now and every test under the sun had been done – yellow fever, Zika, Rocky Mountain Fever the list covers nearly everything you can possibly imagine and can’t pronounce – apart from one disease.
The oldest disease in the world.
One of the most deadliest diseases.
The one that right now kills a child every 2 minutes.
The one that has already killed half of mankind.
The one that very nearly killed me.
Dr. Celia on a last minute whim decided to send my blood results to San Francisco and test for Malaria as a complete last resort. Thank God she did.
By this point it had completely taken over my body, I had no red blood cells, I was on permanent blood transfusions, I had complete organ failure – and to the people on the outside the only thing that was keeping me alive was a machine.
But from the inside so was my mind, my soul and my spirit, I knew I was dying BUT I was fighting.
I was fighting so god damn hard to stay alive.
I desperately wanted to live. For one short second I accepted that maybe this was my fate.
Then I knew it wasn’t and there was no way I was going to give in.
I had a conversation with death.
Death told me to go with it, I spoke to it away from my body and its energy ushered ME away from ME. It got more forceful telling me I had to let go.
I pictured my funeral. I saw my mum and brothers devastated.
I fought so hard, I said ‘No, I can’t leave. I can’t leave my mum. I can’t do that to her, she doesn’t deserve it. This can’t be it. I have too much to still do in my life. I can’t go. You can’t take me. NO. I will not go. You will not win. I will fight.’
I fought and fought. I was in incredible pain but I couldn’t leave I would fight through the pain and stay.
I realised how much I desperately wanted to live.
It is not until you have to fight for your life that you realise just how precious it really is.
The Malaria results came back and they were positive.
I HAD MALARIA!
It was the strangest double edge sword as a last gasp chance to save me the doctors started treating me for it.
I began to improve.
Despite every odd that was against me, I survived; I am stood in front of you today. Both doctors in Brazil and the UK said it was a miracle not only that I survived but I survived with the recovery I have made.
I was lying in that bed thinking I would never be able to feel the sun on my face, see my mum’s smile, smell flowers, run, use my legs or speak again.
I was so incredibly unlucky to have what happened to me happen but I am so incredibly lucky to have survived. Despite the fact I wasn’t diagnosed immediately, when I was diagnosed I was given Malaria treatment. The treatment saved my life – I was one of the lucky ones.
THAT WAS ONLY 8 MONTHS AGO!
This doesn’t just happen to people at the other side of the globe that we can easily disassociate ourselves from, with little conscience.
I caught Malaria in the Americas; – in 2015 malaria cases in the Americas increased by 16% in comparison to cases reported in 2014, this corresponded with a decrease in overall funding for malaria in this area.
We must continue to push forward in the region.
This is on your doorstep.
This happened to me, this could happen to you – And is happening to people right now allover the world, OUR world!
Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of Malaria.
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity in our generation – something we can really be proud of.
We can save so many lives all over the world – but if human life isn’t enough of a motivation– by investing in ending Malaria we will be investing in the US economy and the global economy contributing directly to growth and stability – given that half of the US exports – that’s billions of dollars worth – go to developing Malaria ridden countries then it kind of makes sense. The developed world relies on the developing world as much as the developing relies on the developed – its important to understand it is a two-way relationship.
For people in the room that think in numbers – over the last 15 years 672 billion dollars was lost from the global gross domestic product as a result of malaria.
Refuges, pregnant women and children are the most vulnerable to malaria – without inclusion, growth globally is unsustainable.
We have with the current level of Malaria investment saved 6.8 million lives already since 2010. Imagine if we hadn’t? 6.8 million unnecessary deaths we could have prevented.
It puts things into perspective when one third of the money spent on one US trident submarine could eliminate malaria in the world for good!
It makes me think of that quote by politician and orator Edmund Burke.
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
Unlike with so many things the question isn’t whether we can; we know we can – it is preventable and treatable – we CAN end Malaria in our lifetime once and for all.
The real question IS do we have the courage too?
Edmund Burke again said.
‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’
I’m stood up here only speaking – trying to use what happened to me last summer to try and prevent others dying – this is only a little – but if we all did our little instead of our nothing our little collectively added together is ENORMOUS, life changing, world changing, life saving – just imagine what we could do.
TV broadcaster, athlete, and malaria survivor Charlie Webster is on Capitol Hill this week recounting her powerful story of survival for the first time in front of malaria advocates and members of Congress. Webster contracted malaria during the Rio Olympics last summer, went into a coma, and miraculously recovered weeks later. She still deals with the effects of this deadly disease that claims more than 438,000 lives every year – primarily children under age five. At the Nothing But Nets Leadership Summit, Webster addressed over 125 advocates from 29 states, who have convened for World Malaria Day to meet with their elected leaders about the President’s proposed cuts to life-saving global malaria programs.