The agonising illness that ended Laura’s model career
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Rare crippling condition knocks beauty off her feet and puts paid to any catwalk ambitions
This is the stunning Ulster woman who was forced to give up modelling when she contracted a rare illness which left her crippled with pain.
Laura Toner, from Newry in Co Down, was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) two years ago which left her in agony and unable to walk short distances.
The condition, which is also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, happens when part of the nervous system becomes overactive.
It’s estimated that out of the 65 million people living in the UK and Ireland, around 11,500 people suffer from the condition and half of those will recover within a few months.
For Laura (23), RSD meant she couldn’t drive and resulted in her giving up full time work.
When the pain was at its worst she was desperate for her foot to be amputated.
Laura’s nightmare started in April 2006 when she suffered what felt like a collapsed arch in her left foot.
“I went to a chiropodist and she thought it was inflammation of the arch,” Laura recalled
“I could barely take my socks and shoes off or let anybody touch it.”
Laura was on crutches and was sent for an X-ray but doctors were baffled.
“I was in bed a lot because I couldn’t walk from my bedroom down the stairs,” she said.
“It was really excruciating. It’s very hard to describe the pain because it was so severe.
“I was in tears screeching with the pain. I was ready for a knife to cut it.”
Laura said even the feel of air against her skin was too much to bear.
The intensity of the pain meant she couldn’t take off her socks and shoes and she even wore shoes to bed.
“My feet were swollen and discoloured and would have been either really, really hot or freezing cold.”
Laura visited a podiatrist and got an emergency appointment with a consultant.
After following X-rays, blood tests and a bone scan, Laura was diagnosed in October of that year.
Laura’s career in modelling and beauty therapy were also affected.
“I used to do promotional modelling and I had to give it up.
“The agency I was with would have given me the Lidl advert but I had to turn it down because at the time I thought it was a breakage and I was on crutches.
“They said they would hold off but they couldn’t wait for me.”
She also gave up her job working as a beauty therapist in Debenham’s and instead opened her own salon in Newry.
But it was a struggle.
“I came to work every day just to keep myself positive.
“I couldn’t even walk from reception to the treatment rooms and I had to get the lift up every day.”
Laura could only wear flat shoes and in December she sold her car because she couldn’t drive with the pain.
As well as physical pain, Laura also battled depression and feared the condition would spread throughout her body.
She said: “I got it in my right foot as well.
“I was worrying I would get it in my hands as well because they say it can jump to other parts of the body.
“You have to try and think positive but it’s very hard when you think you’re never going to get rid of it and the doctors say there’s no cure.”
Laura began a range of therapies to get the condition under control.
As well as massages, she had physiotherapy twice a week with a family friend.
She also had reiki and reflexology to help desensitise her skin.
“It helps to expose the skin to different textures so I was having foot spas every single day.”
“There could be a chance I could get it in my hands so I get reflexology in my hands,” she added.
“I remember reading about a girl who had it all over her body and she couldn’t even wear clothes it was that bad,” she said.
Laura, who had to pay for the treatments to help her skin, wants to increase public awareness about the condition.
“I would like to see the NHS doing a bit more to get people alternative treatments,” Laura said.
“Even to see a physiotherapist can take ages and they don’t realise how severe the pain is. You just want help straight away.”
Because of her determination to ease the condition, Laura is starting to feel better.
She is still in pain but she’s now driving an automatic car and she’s hopeful that one day she will be able to wear high heels again.
“I wake up in the morning and I know I’m going to be in pain that day but I try to pretend that it’s not normal and I’m going to get rid of it.
“I was always in my shoes glammed up and when I was put in my trainers I felt horrible and really small.
“I would like to wear heels on my wedding day.
“When it comes to the day that I do wear my heels I will feel like the prettiest person in the world.”
l Laura is keen to hear from other sufferers of RSD and she can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org