The first thing Helen remembers is Boxing Day when her sister said she thought Helen seemed a little bit under the weather. Helen started to develop a cough over Christmas, and when returning to work after the break, her colleagues were concerned too.

Having been very sleepy in the days that followed, Helen visited her Doctor who advised her she had flu. But a couple of days later, her condition declined and Helen was taken to Southmead Hospital – diagnosed with sepsis. By now, she was feeling incredibly unwell.

Everything the hospital tried to treat Helen wasn’t working and ECMO was the last resort. Royal Brompton’s ECMO team came to Bristol, put Helen on ECMO and brought her back to London. At Royal Brompton, Helen remained in a coma for three weeks. But thanks to ECMO, medical staff had more time to treat Helen and ultimately, save her life.

During this time, Helen’s family came and stayed with her – none of which she remembers. She had had a tracheotomy, which made it very difficult to speak saying, “For me, that was the hardest part.”

Something else Helen recalls is the consultant who cared for her – a man called Alistair. Her husband Gary grew to like him very much, in part because of his honesty. She remembers him speaking to a group of medical students, explaining how ill she had been and how they thought she would never pull through.

Helen says, “I was never really frightened - I'm was always confident that I would get better.” Yet when Gary would bring in her phone and iPad – a sense of normality – Helen had no interest.

Helen also has lots of fond memories of the nurses on AICU, one who’s name escapes her, but remembers her purple hair in plaits, “She was still really kind and did everything she could for me.”

When she started to become more conscious, Helen was given physiotherapy. She couldn’t sit up or stand up – something that was both shocking and distressing for her and Gary. Eventually, Helen could stand one day, and the next sit in a chair. All the time, the nurses were encouraging and motivational.

Three weeks later, the journey back to Bristol had been something Helen had looked forward to – being closer to home. She remained on ICU at Southmead Hospital. Being nearer to family again, Helen had lots of visitors and more lovely nurses to support her recovery:

“I never realised the power of holding hands. When people came to see me and I couldn’t speak, just holding hands made me feel like I was connecting with them. And you can feel the love in people’s touch more than words sometimes.”

Two weeks later, Helen was moved to a “normal” ward. At this point, she started to walk with the Zimmer frame, something that excited her. She was still very weak, but slowly things were improving.

Unfortunately, after seeing deposit on her lungs and an arterial flutter, Helen’s consultant decided she needed lung surgery, which felt like a step backwards. The surgery went well but Helen was in a lot of pain and wasn’t sleeping well. Having been moved back to a ward, everything felt small, “my world felt tiny again,” Helen says.

Helen came home on 28 February – everyone was understandably excited. There was still a long way to go in terms of recovery, so Helen started a diary to track her progress. As she became stronger, she started light exercise and since Christmas Helen has been feeling better more and more quickly.

 “I still get upset when I speak about the time I was unwell. But the care I have had from the NHS, during my stays at three hospitals, including the aftercare, is something any country in the world should aspire to.

To all the clinicians and every other person involved in my treatment, I cannot thank you enough."

To read about our ECMO appeal and how we are fundraising to support more people like Helen, please click here