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Tony Frattaroli  @salspizza

Tony Frattaroli @salspizza

Limerick, Ireland

From the Irish Times comes the story of Tony Frattaroli who woke up one morning paralysed down one side. Weeks later, the doctors still couldn’t explain it. This is his story as told to CLAIRE O’CONNELL in the Irish Times, 14 July 2009.

SATURDAY March 12th 2005 was a day I will never forget. It was the day I thought I would never walk again.

I woke up as normal but quickly realised there was a problem. As I tried to get myself up out of bed I simply couldn’t. The left side of my body was paralysed and also the left side of my face had little or no feeling. It was like pins and needles.

I didn’t panic immediately but as I tried a second and third time to get up, I couldn’t. I thought maybe it would go away but by mid-afternoon I knew I was in big trouble. I couldn’t move and I had terrible pains in my chest.

I was brought in to hospital where they tested my reflexes and took blood and checked my heart. They were quite stunned, and because I had lost the power and movement on my left side they admitted me right away.

I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t turn in the bed, I needed to be brought to the bathroom – I couldn’t do anything. I was really scared and feared the worst.

The doctor and his team came to see me the following day and I will never forget the look on his face when he did the reflex test and my left limbs didn’t move.

He turned to his team and the look said it all – Houston, we have a problem.

Their tests ruled out a stroke, any heart problems or multiple sclerosis. I had just returned from a business trip to New England where there had been an outbreak of Lyme disease, but again this was not the problem.

Days were passing and I was simply lying in a bed. I was in trouble. I was in my 30s and I needed someone to bring me to the bathroom. That’s not a nice position to be in.

But the nurses were the nicest and the most hard-workingpeople you could ever meet, and my family would visit every day and they would wash and shave me.

One of the most harrowing days was when my uncle picked me up to bring me to the bathroom and he said: “Whatever it takes, we are going to get you walking again.” I just broke down. I’m a very proud man – and here I was beholden to everyone; my life was in everyone else’s hands

At the hospital, they started physiotherapy to try to get me walking but this was proving extremely difficult. A neurologist came to see me and an MRI scan showed two vertebrae at the base of my neck had collapsed on each other.

I said: “Thank God, we have the reason, now let’s fix it.” But the neurologist dismissed it and said that was not the cause. I simply could not believe what I had just heard. Weeks were passing and my condition was getting no better. I was paralysed.

They did a lumbar puncture as I had meningitis some time previously. Again, there was no answer there. I would go to physio daily but nothing major was happening.

The doctor said I might have been suffering from some sort of psychosomatic illness caused by a stress-related issue, and he suggested I see a psychiatrist. After one session with the psychiatrist, I knew it was not psychosomatic. We were now into week seven and there were no positives in sight.

Then, one day, the doctor and his team came to my room and told me they could do no more for me. They suggested my family take me home and get the house ready, or transfer me to a rehab.

This was the most frightening moment of my life. But my attitude is simple: never give up.

As all this was going on, my cousin in the UK had been making some enquiries. Her friend worked in a private clinic, so I requested my hospital files and then off I went to London in the first week of May.

The neurologist there looked at the scans and said he was 99 per cent sure the problem was was the two vertebrae that had collapsed: they were putting pressure on the spinal cord. I broke down crying.

He had seen this once or twice before and suggested the frequent long-haul flights involved in my job may have caused wear and tear.

Another scan showed the injury was close to the spinal cord so they ruled out surgery – if anything went wrong I would be permanently in a wheelchair.

So they dosed me up with medication to help get me moving, including anti-inflammatories for the swelling, and laid out a tough physiotherapy programme.

I stayed with my cousin over the summer so I could attend the clinic. The road to recovery was long and hard – you’d do a bit and you’d be knocked back – but the signs began to show. I was able to get from the bed to the door in 10 minutes – this was massive progress and I knew there would be an outcome.

Seven months from when I was initially diagnosed I was back to full health.

I couldn’t travel as frequently and so couldn’t continue in my role as CEO of a software company, a job I had loved. It wouldn’t be fair to me or the team. So after a break I worked in telecoms and software and then I started my own business.

I am told the paralysis could happen again, but I try not to think about it too much. It was a traumatic time but I’m not a quitter. I’m 100 per cent better now – and I am very lucky.