A woman who fell ill with food poisoning on her honeymoon has developed a rare condition that “paralysed” her stomach so she can no longer digest food.
Jessica Heather, 30, from Wirral in Merseyside, who is studying design and innovation, might need a feeding tube for the rest of her life.
She caught the bug while on her honeymoon in Turkey with her new husband Wayne, 33, in July 2014.
The couple thought it was food poisoning.
She said: “I knew something was wrong when Wayne bounced back and I didn’t.
“I was seriously fatigued, forgetting people’s names and even how to talk.”
Ms Heather was hospitalised with severe stomach pains and bowel issues when she returned to the UK.
Doctors couldn’t find a cause and she was diagnosed with several invisible illnesses – including fibromyalgia and borderline personality disorder.
Her health continued to decline with joint pain, hot flashes and vomiting in 2019.
Ms Heather was struggling to digest food and would be sick after most of her meals.
Last August she was rushed to hospital with severe malnutrition.
She developed more usual symptoms – including mouth ulcers, skin lesions and blackouts.
Ms Heather also lost three-and-a-half stone in six weeks because she was unable to digest food.
Finally last December she was diagnosed with Behçet’s Syndrome – a rare condition that results in the inflammation of blood vessels and tissue.
“It took six years until I was finally diagnosed”, she said.
“I still don’t know the cause, but doctors think it may have been something bacterial I picked up from my honeymoon.”
The Behçet’s Syndrome had attacked her stomach and left her with a gastroparesis – a condition that ‘paralyses’ the stomach and leaves it unable to digest food properly.
She said: “The condition had damaged a nerve connecting my brain and stomach so it couldn’t send signals properly.
“Food wasn’t being digested properly and just sitting in my stomach – causing me to be sick.”
Ms Heather is now unable to digest most fruits and vegetables and survives on a strict low-fibre diet.
She eats two ‘meal replacement’ shakes, some fruit, and a ham and cheese wrap every day.
“Most days I can only manage a cheese and ham sandwich and certain fruits”, she said.
“My body cannot digest food high fibre and I have to avoid anything too fatty – my health depends on it.
“I might end up on a feeding tube for the rest of my life.”
She added: “I can’t believe this started on my honeymoon but I’m glad to still have my life.”
The condition is incurable but can be treated.
Doctors suggested Ms Heather undergo a plasma exchange, where the liquid part of your blood is replaced with a donor’s to “clean” your blood.
But during her first round of real donated plasma she went into anaphylactic shock and nearly died.
Now she receives a plasma substitute every six weeks.
She was fitted with a permanent dialysis catheter – an IV line into the blood vessel in your neck or upper chest – to receive the treatment.
Ms Heather has also started a YouTube channel to raise awareness about her conditions.
She was recently nominated for the Positive Role Model Award by the National Diversity Awards for her work raising awareness around the conditions.
“I started vlogging my experience”, she said. “It gave me something to focus on and helped my mental health.
“Now I combine my passion for travel with raising awareness for the condition on our channel.
“I’m still in a lot of pain but I count myself very lucky.”