When a survivor met Diana

31st August 2017

Community Ambassador, Sophia was just 16 when meningitis changed her life forever. But  meeting an iconic Royal Patron of the charity inspired her to keep fighting

When a survivor met Diana

"When people ask me how I came to terms with losing my legs it's difficult to put into words, but this picture brings it back, this was the first time I got out of my hospital bed and sat in a wheelchair in public, not just a little trip out to the park, oh no that's not my style!"

"A week before this I was at rock bottom, refusing to eat, I'd given up, but the hospital staff were all buzzing about a 'special visitor' who was coming to open the Douglas Bader rehab centre, and that special person happened to be my idol, Princess Diana."

"If I could get myself well, if I could prove to my consultant I was strong enough to sit in my chair for just a few hours, if I could somehow find the strength to go out of the safety of my hospital room in my wheelchair without my legs, there's a chance I could see this amazing lady in the flesh."

"My consultant set me a challenge 'It's up to you Sophia, if you are well enough and strong enough, Then you can go to the open day'. This was what I needed, a goal, it brought back my determination and my fight. I put on a bit of weight in that week, I forced myself to sit up for longer than I had since my amputations and I started to smile."

"That morning was one of the most exciting but one of the scariest mornings of my life. I had my first shower with no legs and the nurses washed my hair, one nurse bought her hair dryer in especially to dry my hair (look at that shine!), my parents arrived looking so smart and brought an equally smart outfit for me and in wheeled the thing I dreaded most; my wheelchair. I hated the thought of having to be in a wheelchair, but this was the only way I would get to see Diana, so I accepted with a smile and off we flew."

"To be outside was hard, but because of who she was everything happened so quickly and with such precision, there was no fumbling awkwardly trying to squeeze a wheelchair passed everyday obstacles, there was a designated place for me to be and as I was still so weak I was one of the last to be brought in."

"I remember the noise, after spending 4 months in a hospital room on my own, the noise of what was probably a few hundred people in this new sports centre was immense I was scared but far more excited, every single person in that room was buzzing. We waited for what seemed like just a few minutes and then a wave of silence fell over the entire building... she was here, it was like electricity surging through the entire building!"

"We were upstairs, Diana and her entourage made their way round the downstairs first, it was agonising knowing she was here in this building but I couldn't see her."

"The lift opened behind me, my Mums face lit up, but I couldn't turn, I was stuck, I panicked, I remember thinking I was going to cry, I couldn't see her. I then looked at my Mum who was looking up at someone, and then she was there...Princess Diana, stood right next to me. I struggled to look up at her, I was just sat there blinking back tears, but I was beaming, I felt so alive!"

"Then she did the most amazing thing, to anyone else what Diana did probably doesn't mean that much but when you're as vulnerable and scared as I was, when you've lost absolutely everything this lady knew what would help. She crouched down to her knees, to my level, she gently held my hand and spoke to me directly in the eyes 'Hello Sophia, did Meningitis do this to you?' Diana was the patron of the Meningitis Trust, she knew about the illness, she knew statistics and symptoms, most importantly she knew how important awareness would be to saving people's lives. She chatted to my Mum about the symptoms and asked if Mum had recognised them, she then said 'we really need to get the symptoms of meningitis out there, make sure everyone knows what to look for' she was genuinely interested in us. She went round to each family with the same humanity and interest in all of their lives."

"That day I decided I would do everything I could to raise awareness of Meningitis, Princess Diana was right, awareness really is the key to saving lives. That was probably the day my life started again and a day I will never ever forget."

Sophia, whose story was used for the ‘Fastest Hour’ video, has raised awareness of meningitis for many years and represents the charity as a Community Ambassador.