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Airlifted from Mauritius
In April 2016, an expat family in Mauritius faced every parent’s worst nightmare when a bad headache soon proved to be a lot more sinister for their daughter.
Jamie Copsey and his wife Olivia live on Mauritius with their children Patrick, Matilda (Tilly) and Ferguson.
The family moved to the small island in the Indian Ocean four years ago as part of Jamie’s work as Head of Learning & Development at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Jamie, whose role involves a great deal of travel, runs training programmes for conservation biologists.
In April 2016, they faced every parent’s worst nightmare when a bad headache soon proved to be a lot more sinister for their daughter, Tilly.
After tests were conducted at their local hospital, the family were told that the 10-year-old was suffering from viral meningitis. She was treated accordingly and sent home to recover.
However, a couple of days after leaving hospital, Tilly was re-admitted with excruciating pains in her legs – which soon affected her ability to walk. While more tests were carried out, doctors in Mauritius were unable to find anything wrong. The doctors began to question her symptoms and after another week in hospital she was discharged.
“As Tilly was still paralysed and in extreme pain, we knew we needed outside help – but given our location, we really had no idea what to do for the best. Fortunately, we received a call from the medical team at William Russell the next day. They had requested Tilly’s notes and tests as soon as she had been admitted to hospital, and having seen the results of her lumbar puncture their doctors had decided they were not happy with one of the MRI scans.
“They told us that a plane was being arranged to airlift Tilly off the island immediately. Within 12 hours she was being taken by ambulance to the airport and then on to South Africa.”
Once in Johannesburg, Matilda was admitted to paediatric ICU and her pain was managed with morphine while the doctors tried to agree what was happening to her. Eventually, one doctor diagnosed her with a rare condition that he had seen before: ADEM, or acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.
This disease, which is sparked by inflammation in the spinal chord or brain, prompts an auto-immune response that attacks the nerve endings. During the four-six weeks that Tilly was in hospital in South Africa, she underwent extensive physiotherapy in an attempt to get her walking again.
Jamie explains: “It’s been a long road – because initially, it was intensely painful for Tilly to put any pressure on her legs. However, eventually she was well enough to continue her physio at home in Mauritius.”
Around six months after falling ill, Tilly is now pain-free and has returned to school.
“It’s hard to describe how grateful we are to the doctors at William Russell – and obviously, my employer Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust for arranging such excellent medical cover. Having your child fall ill is bad enough, but when the doctors are unable to agree a diagnosis the whole thing becomes doubly stressful.
“What really stands out for me is the way William Russell’s doctors reviewed Tilly’s case so thoroughly – stepping in before we even got a chance to ask them to. I also found that whenever we received or made a call to our two allocated contacts, they were always there and fully up-to-speed on the latest developments. When you’re experiencing the type of stress our family was under, not having to go over old ground every time you call makes a huge difference.
“Before this happened I hadn’t realised how vulnerable you feel being overseas. It would have been very difficult, not to mention expensive, for us to get the help Tilly needed without private medical cover – and having the support of experts there working for you is amazing.”