A dream trip to South and Central America should have been the experience of a lifetime for Paul and Maria Mahon.
The couple had taken early retirement, their house had been sold, possessions put in storage and their cars left at an auction house.
Paul and Maria had been training for their cycle expedition through Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile and Colombia for months.
But tragedy struck on the 11th day of the four-and-a-half month trip when Maria suffered a primary ventricular fibrillation. which meant her heart had gone into spasm and she was unable to breathe.
The couple were in an isolated area of Cuba, around a two hour drive from the capital Havana and communication problems meant it was difficult to summon help.
As Paul pondered what to do next, two German doctors happened to be passing and were able to give Maria CPR and organised transport to a hospital – but on arrival it was confirmed she had suffered a brain trauma which left her unable to move or speak.
But more than two years on, and a year after coming home to Lytham following months of care in a hospital intensive care unit, Maria is making great progress – and Paul has paid tribute to the nursing care she had received to aid and encourage that progress.
Paul explained: “When she arrived at the hospital in Chile, Maria was sedated and put on oxygen.
“I was told she had suffered a brain trauma. She never opened her eyes the whole time we were there.
“The medical staff at the hospital were lovely, but the facilities were primitive.
“I just lay on the bed with her and tried to reassure her, I could not believe how ill she had become.
“The tour operators and travel insurance company were amazingly supportive and five days later a Learjet was commissioned to fly us back to Britain.
“But we had no home – we had sold our house in Sussex and everything was in storage. The plan had been for us to rent somewhere when we returned to England.
“I asked for us to be taken to a hospital near to Warrington where my parents lived.
“There was an intensive care bed available at Warrington and Maria spend six weeks in ITU and 6 weeks on a rehabilitation ward before being transferred to the neurology hospital at the Walton Centre in Liverpool.”
While Maria was at the Walton Centre, Paul moved in his mum and dad in Warrington but it was decided to buy a house in Lytham, close to Maria’s brother, Robert Ellison, a neurological physiotherapist, who was keen to try to help his sister.
“After I moved in to our new home, Maria was able to leave hospital and join me a year ago and the progress she is making is very encouraging,” said Paul.
“Maria is sleeping a lot less and although I doubt she will walk again she is able to move more and more.
“She isn’t able to talk again yet but we hope that will be the case - she is certainly able communication a lot than she was able to when she arrived home.
“Maria’s care would be impossible without the kindness and care of the community and doctors, particularly two wonderful Lytham district Nurses, Rachael Coxan and her colleague Rachel Jump, who became the mainstay of her care from her arrival home.
“With the support of them, Maria’s brother, her neurological consultant, Dr David Shakespeare, the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust and Clifton Home Care, Maria is now able to sit in a lounge chair, watch and enjoy TV and go for trips out in a specially adapted car.”
“We are now looking at the possibility of a couple of holidays and Maria has even joined the local Connect Community Choir where although she cannot join in the singing, she is able to enjoy to company and do the warm-up stretching exercises.”
“I can turn to Rachel and Rachael if ever I need help or reassurance – and because they know Maria so well now they are able to advise on things that work for her and her rehabilitation.
“The trust we have built up is immense. They take some of the worry away and nothing ever seems too much trouble.
“If Maria needs something, they go out of their way to ensure she gets it as soon as humanly possible.”
Paul said he had also received fantastic support from his parents who had moved from Warrington to Ansdell to help care for Maria cooking meals and reading to her every day.
He also paid tribute to the care Maria receives daily from her brother, Rob.
“He worked tirelessly for Maria, travelling to Warrington from Lytham, 100 mile round trip, four times a week while she was in ICU and rehab while still seeing his own clients. He came every day once she got home and is the reason she is no longer as stiff as she was.”
District nurse Rachael Coxon said: “When we first met Maria she was very anxious, her movement and posture was very rigid and her skin was extremely sensitive.
“That has all improved massively.
“She has also improved cognitively and we hope this will continue.
“We were able to sort equipment for Maria, such as bed and mattress extenders and we manage her day-to-day care.
“She recognises us and understands everything you say to her. Maria is making great progress and is now able to communicate in a limited way by pointing to the words yes or no and can make decisions about what to wear by indicating a preferred outfit.
“Just Rachel and I visit Maria from the District Nurse team because when we first met her, her condition was so complex we thought it better to keep to the same faces so she could build a rapport with us.
“Now we have become very fond of Maria and Paul and helping families like this is the reason we are in nursing. It gives us tremendous job satisfaction to see this improvement.”
Paul said he was incredibly grateful for the medical and emotional support he had received from the NHS, family members and other carers since moving into Lytham a year ago.