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Lana Eardley was in hospital when someone messaged her to tell her there was no such thing as COVID.
"I couldn’t believe it," says the 25-year-old from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
"This was a person I considered to be a friend and yet he was insisting that doctors and consultants were lying to me.
"My life has completely changed since contracting the virus. I nearly died. Now I barely move, I can’t work, I’m living back at home with my parents and this week I’ve been told I will probably have to have a pacemaker fitted because my heart isn’t functioning properly.
"People who say there’s no such thing as COVID – or who refuse to get the vaccine – need to educate themselves."
Eardley, an operations and talent manager for a PR consultancy, is understandably angry and frustrated. Previously healthy with no underlying health conditions, she has suffered horrendously with complications from the virus.
It started in January when Eardley, who lives alone, started to feel hot and shaky, but she assumed the symptoms were linked to a new diet.
"I’ve always been overweight but reasonably healthy so I put it down to sugar withdrawal but got tested anyway," says Eardley.
"I was really surprised when it was positive as I’d not been anywhere other than a supermarket."
"On 17 January I started feeling worse," Eardley continues. "One really surprising symptom was that I couldn’t open my eyes properly or look at anything bright like a TV or my phone.
"I struggled to breathe so I called 111 who sent an ambulance, though I was discharged a few hours later.
"But the next day I needed another ambulance and the same happened again. By the third day and the third ambulance, the hospital admitted me and I was put on a COVID ward with three other ladies – all much older than me.
"I was told I’d had COVID pneumonia and was given antibiotics and started to improve. After four days, I was sent home and I thought that would be the end of it."
After her self-isolation finished, Eardley was feeling slightly better and went to stay with her parents. They even enjoyed wine and a takeaway and she started work again.
But a few days later, she began to experience breathlessness and her smartwatch recorded that her heart rate was up to 160 beats per minute.
"I knew something was wrong and called 111 again, and they sent an emergency ambulance," says Eardley. "At that point I was terrified that I’d brought COVID home to my parents, but they were both fine.
"The doctors said I had pneumonia and now pleurisy [an inflammation that causes chest pain] so put me on IV [intravenous] antibiotics.
"Blood tests showed my infection markers were ridiculously high. The normal level is below four but mine were 350."
Watch: What is long COVID?
"The doctors couldn’t work out what was happening, which was very frustrating," Eardley continues.
"I spoke to specialists from all over the world via Zoom and eventually was diagnosed with something similar to Kawasaki disease – a disease that mainly affects under-fives from black and ethnic minority populations.
"I was also reacting to drugs I’d never reacted to before – my body was rejecting everything."
On day five of her stay in the hospital, Eardley’s blood pressure dropped, her heart rate spiked and the doctors realised she had developed life-threatening sepsis. It was to prove the most terrifying few hours of her life.
"I remember the crash button being pressed and doctors rushing in from everywhere and I saw two medical students at the end of the bed looking very scared," says Eardley.
"One doctor said they would try and save me but it was touch and go. I begged a nurse to help me call my mum. I was frantic. I didn’t want to die but telling my mum that I didn’t think I was going to make it and that I might have to say goodbye will live with me forever.’
Thankfully, Eardley pulled through and when doctors performed an electrocardiogram they discovered that her heart had been affected by the virus. It was now only beating at 35% capacity.
"They started referring to ‘paediatric multiple system inflammation syndrome’ which again, normally affects young children," she says. "No one could understand why a white 25-year-old was having these symptoms.
"They’ve now given it the name ‘multiple system inflammation syndrome in adults’ – which can mean anything from inflammation in the muscles to organ failure – but it means I’m now living with heart failure."
Eardley is now out of hospital and taking 15 tablets a day. She finds out next week if she will need a pacemaker fitted.
"I’ve had so many tests and trials and still the doctors don’t know what has caused me to react like this," she says. "Apparently there are 27 other people around the world who have this disease and nine of them have died.
"On the one hand it makes me terrified to do anything and on the other hand, I think I should start living my life because I don’t know how long I’ve got left.
"I try to stay as positive as possible but I feel like a shell of myself. I’m missing my work, my friends, my life. I’ve had to give up my Masters degree because I fell so far behind."
Understandably, Eardley is staunchly pro-vaccine and had the first jab herself in March but she reacted so badly to it that she ended up in hospital and has been told she cannot have a second dose.
"Those people who won’t get the vaccine are now putting people like me at risk," she says. "If I get the virus again it will probably kill me.
"COVID is a mind-blowing disease that can affect people of any age and I’m proof of that. To those people who won’t have the vaccine, I’d say it’s not just about you – it’s about everyone else."
Lana Eardley would like to hear from people who have been in a similar situation. She’s on Twitter @eardleylana
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