A widower from Southampton – who was once in a wheelchair facing a codeine addiction, severe depression and smoking nearly 100 cigarettes a day – can now walk with no assistance after falling in love with his health coach and coming off all medication.
Nicholas Barnes, 39, met his fiancee, Maggie Englander, 42, when she contacted him on Facebook wanting to help after he posted about struggling with his mental and physical health four months following the loss of his wife of 16 years to womb cancer.
A month after that, the pair met in person for the first time and Maggie said she knew “it was going to be love” immediately.
Maggie, who runs her own health coach business, Rewiring Yourself, moved to the UK in 2005 from Poland as a single mother – after meeting him in 2021, she began teaching Nicholas how to build up the strength to move his legs, something he has been unable to do since 2007, when a fall put him in a power-assisted wheelchair.
Six months after meeting Maggie, he no longer needed his wheelchair, and now he has shaken his addiction he can “dance, jump and do push-ups”.
Meeting Maggie and falling in love gave Nicholas the encouragement he needed to get out of his old habits, like smoking and barely exercising, and since then he has become a qualified hypnotherapist to help others turn their life around in a similar way.
In 2007, Nicholas fell and landed straight on his feet and spine, saying: “I ended up in a powered wheelchair because of it. I couldn’t walk. I was in severe pain all the time.
“I had carers once a day (who) helped me get dressed for the day and I was on a lot of medication.
“I was on co-codamol, pregabalin and codeine, and I got addicted because I was on it for so long and I was taking them so often.
“The side-effects of some of the tablets made me eat a lot and I developed high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
“I also had severe anxiety and depression and didn’t want to leave the house.”
This continued for the next few years, and Nicholas felt stuck in a rut.
On top of his health struggles, in 2017, Nicholas’ wife, Yan Barnes, of 16 years was diagnosed with womb cancer, and died three years later in December 2020.
“All of a sudden she could hardly move around the bed, and I had to feed her because she wasn’t eating and drinking,” Nicholas said.
“I called 111 and they said she needed an ambulance. So they came and assessed her and they took her into hospital where they told me she was going to die now and then a few days later she did.
“I was called into the hospital to stay with her for about four-and-a-half hours and then she passed away.”
Four months later, in April 2021, Nicholas was contacted, via Facebook messenger, by holistic health coach Maggie, who spotted his posts on Facebook about his disability and bereavement.
Maggie said: “I wanted to help Nicholas, I just felt like he was looking for solace and being so lonely, and grieving after his wife. I was on a mission to help him.”
The pair met up in May, when Maggie drove from her house in Crawley to stay with Nicholas in Southampton to help him clean and organise his house to make a start on his health journey.
She said: “He was smoking 80 to 100 cigarettes every single day. I remember the first time I entered his house, I barely saw him, there was smoke everywhere.
“Everything was covered with yellow patches, even on the windows and doors.
“When I saw him, I just knew that I needed to help him, whatever it takes.
“Nicholas is one of the kindest men I have ever met. He’s so genuine, and many people wanted to judge him, but I always listened to him. I saw Nicholas for who he was, rather than what life made him.
“I knew after first meeting him that it was going to be love.”
Maggie began visiting Nicholas every two weeks, and the pair constantly kept in touch over the phone and email in between seeing each other.
Nicholas said: “Maggie gave me the encouragement I needed, and falling in love motivated me, Maggie’s completely turned my life around.”
When visiting, not only did their feelings grow for one another, but Maggie also encouraged Nicholas to slowly reduce the dosage of his medication, to help overcome his addiction.
Nicholas said: “It wasn’t easy, I was sweating and having nightmares. It was a very emotional time for me to address the issue but I’ve managed it through strong willpower.”
Maggie also showed Nicholas how to cook healthier, causing him to lose six-and-a-half stone and tackling his diabetes.
Just six months after being with Maggie, Nicholas no longer needed his wheelchair.
Maggie patiently taught Nicholas little movements, starting from his toes, and eventually building up to being able to move his legs.
She said: “A few months ago he started using crutches around his house, and used his wheelchair when we went out for the day.
“Then, we began using the crutches around the shop, and then we left the crutches at home.
“In the last month, he’s not using anything. He can dance, jump and do push ups. I gave him my love, support and attention and that made the most difference.
“Our family is just so proud of Nicholas and they say that they still can’t believe it.”
Nicholas added: “I thought I would never walk again until I found love. Maggie is my angel, she’s completely turned my life around.
“I tried to get over all these problems for such a long time and nothing seemed to be working, I can’t believe I don’t need to use my chair anymore.”
The pair got engaged in August 2021, after Nicholas’ third attempt at proposing, Maggie explained: “I wanted him to work on his confidence, so I wanted him to do it in public, which he eventually did.”
Nicholas and Maggie are now planning to move in together and Nicholas recently became a NLP Master Coach and Hypnotherapist with a Level 3 diploma in Pain Management and a mindfulness teacher qualification to help others with their mental and physical health.
Dr Margaret Ikpoh, vice-chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It’s important that all patients on long-term medication don’t suddenly stop treatment unless discussed with their specialist, GP or healthcare professional overseeing their treatment plan.
“If a patient decides they want to stop taking their medication for whatever reason, it is important they discuss this by booking a non-urgent appointment to speak with the healthcare professional caring for them or at their next medication review.”