Sandy Nette was left ‘locked-in’ after a chiropractor manipulated her neck and tore two arteries, cutting off the blood supply to her brain.
Only able to communicate by blinking, doctors feared she’d never walk, talk or breathe unaided again.
But now Sandy, 46, from Alberta, Canada, can move about with the help of a walking frame and hold brief but precious conversations.
“It felt like all our dreams had come true when Sandy was allowed home,” her husband, David, 56, says. “She’s my inspiration.”
The former senior administrator had been going to a chiropractor for years, to help relieve tension in her shoulder.
Fateful phone call
However, on one fateful day in September 2007, Sandy was on her way back from a session when she pulled over to phone David.
“When my mobile rang and my wife’s name flashed up on the screen, I answered it expecting to hear her bubbly voice,” David said.
“But after a long pause, there was a strange, slurring noise. Then, between stutters and moans, Sandy managed to tell me her vision had gone blurry.
“I raced to where she was and, as she got out of the car, she fell into my arms.”
By the time David had driven Sandy to hospital, her eyes had rolled to the back of her head and she was gasping for air.
Clinging to life
After she suffered a series of strokes, doctors didn’t know if she’d survive.
“It was terrifying,” David remembers. “For 11 days, she lay clinging to life in intensive care. Then came the heart-wrenching, soul-destroying news that Sandy had locked-in syndrome.
“It meant my wife was completely paralysed. She could see and hear everything going on around her, but she was isolated in her own living hell. All she could do was blink. I wanted to scream, ‘Why us?’
“Sandy had always been so fit and healthy. Now it was like she'd been buried alive.
“The worst part was leaving her in the hospital at night – alone and trapped. I’d drive home in tears.”
‘Miracles kept coming’
As David held vigil by his wife’s bedside 14 hours a day, he knew brave Sandy was still there though.
“When I told silly jokes, I saw her eyes glisten,” he said. “And I felt her warmth when I leaned down and placed my cheek against hers.”
The couple gradually learned to communicate too – one blink for yes, two for no.
Then, six weeks after she was paralysed, David was sitting beside Sandy when he saw her big toe twitch.
The doctors could hardly believe their eyes either.
“After that, the miracles kept coming,” David said. “Two weeks later, as I was holding her hand, I felt two of Sandy’s fingers tighten around mine. That movement changed the way we spoke to each other.
“I’d reel off the alphabet and, whenever I got to the letter Sandy wanted to use, she’d clench her fingers around mine.”
Five months after their lives were torn apart, David emailed relatives and friends with an update.
“Usually, I’d try to sound upbeat but this time, as I banged the letters on the keyboard, I began to howl,” David admits. “I told everyone about the hell we were going through and how brave Sandy was. I was sobbing so hard, I thought my ribcage would break.
“The next morning, I had dozens of replies and messages of support. So, that night, I wrote about Sandy again. It became like therapy for me, but it was also a way to celebrate the progress Sandy was making.”
A month later, David was able to write the most incredible news - Sandy no longer had locked-in syndrome.
She was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital and needed 24-hour care. Soon, she was moving her whole hand and had an operation to strengthen her legs.
Although she was still unable to speak, Sandy was allowed home in December 2008.
David gave up work as a furniture restorer to become Sandy’s full-time carer, and the couple spent their life savings setting up a rehabilitation gym in their house.
Gradually, she learned to get about, helped by a walking frame on wheels.
And, amazingly, she began to talk again too. “Slowly – and only a few words at a time,” David said. “But my Sandy’s voice was back.”
They sued the chiropractor, and, in time, he agreed to an out-of-court settlement. He admitted he’d forged Sandy’s signature on a consent form.
Now, David has turned his heart-felt emails about Sandy into a book. “I want to tell the world about her incredible journey and how our love got us through the darkest time of our lives,” he said.
“And that, no matter how bad things seem, you should never give up.”
Blink: Life After Locked-In Syndrome by David and Sandra Nette, is available at www.blinkthebook.com