Portchester granddad paralysed by rare illness left 'traumatised' by the ordeal

A GRANDFATHER who fell ill while on a dream holiday in Barbados has told of his ‘trauma’ after developing a rare nerve condition that left him paralysed.
Paralysed Mark Jones, pictured being given beer through a straw, celebrates his grandson Jamie's 18th birthday while in Queen Alexandra Hospital.Paralysed Mark Jones, pictured being given beer through a straw, celebrates his grandson Jamie's 18th birthday while in Queen Alexandra Hospital.
Paralysed Mark Jones, pictured being given beer through a straw, celebrates his grandson Jamie's 18th birthday while in Queen Alexandra Hospital.

Veteran firefighter Mark Jones was struck down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) after being diagnosed with pneumonia while in the tropical paradise with his wife, Pat.

In a double blow, the 59-year-old also developed a stomach upset and was rushed into the respiratory ward of Cosham’s Queen Alexandra Hospital after flying home in February.

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Doctors believe the antibodies he produced to fight the illnesses caused his body to react badly – and Mark, of Downend Road, Portchester, then developed the deadly nerve disease days later.

Mark taking some of his first steps after being paralysed for weeks.Mark taking some of his first steps after being paralysed for weeks.
Mark taking some of his first steps after being paralysed for weeks.

He became completely paralysed ‘overnight’, spending weeks on a ventilator and months recovering in hospital - at the peak of the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year.

Now, almost a year on, the grandfather of four is still struggling to recover, with his body weakened and ‘ravaged’ by the illness.

Speaking out for the first time, Mark said: ‘It was absolutely terrifying. Even now, 10 months on, I still get quite scared about it. I get panic attacks and have anxiety - I’ve been diagnosed with a traumatic stress disorder from my time in the ICU.

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‘I was completely reliant on other people for everything, to feed me, to help me breathe; I was unable to talk, the only way I could someone anyone was by making a clicking noise with my mouth. It was really frightening. I was just completely useless.’

Veteran firefighter Mark Jones was struck down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) after being diagnosed with pneumonia while on holiday. He is pictured outside Queen Alexandra Hospital during his lengthy recovery.Veteran firefighter Mark Jones was struck down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) after being diagnosed with pneumonia while on holiday. He is pictured outside Queen Alexandra Hospital during his lengthy recovery.
Veteran firefighter Mark Jones was struck down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) after being diagnosed with pneumonia while on holiday. He is pictured outside Queen Alexandra Hospital during his lengthy recovery.

Mark first noticed he was feeling unwell just a couple of days into his holiday.

Medics at a treatment centre on the island then diagnosed him with pneumonia - although doctors have since said Mark could have contracted Covid-19.

His condition continued to worsen during the course of his trip abroad and as soon as he flew home, he was rushed into hospital, struggling to breathe.

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Then, two days after arriving at QA, doctors broke the news to Mark that he had GBS.

Mark Jones pictured with his three oldest  grandchildren, Jamie, 18, left, Esme, five, and William, three.Mark Jones pictured with his three oldest  grandchildren, Jamie, 18, left, Esme, five, and William, three.
Mark Jones pictured with his three oldest grandchildren, Jamie, 18, left, Esme, five, and William, three.

‘When I was diagnosed I was completely unaware what it actually meant,’ he added. ‘Somebody comes in and says you’ve got this foreign-sounding virus and you’re going to get so ill you can’t move and that over the space of two years you’ll start getting better - it’s horrific.’

GBS usually occurs when antibodies produced by the immune system to fight an infection also start attacking the nervous system.

Although it only affects one in every 40,000 people, sufferers normally lose mobility and spend months in rehabilitation relearning to use their limbs.

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Worried wife Pat said: ‘I became like a scientist and started reading up about it. I knew exactly what was about to happen to him next and that he was going to get worse over the next few weeks. It was tough.’

Former firefighter Mark Jones, 59, from Portchester, was struck down in February 2020 by a rare condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome which ravaged his nervous system, leaving him paralysed for months.

Picture: Sarah Standing (011220-9315)Former firefighter Mark Jones, 59, from Portchester, was struck down in February 2020 by a rare condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome which ravaged his nervous system, leaving him paralysed for months.

Picture: Sarah Standing (011220-9315)
Former firefighter Mark Jones, 59, from Portchester, was struck down in February 2020 by a rare condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome which ravaged his nervous system, leaving him paralysed for months. Picture: Sarah Standing (011220-9315)

Mark spent two months in intensive care, totally paralysed for weeks, and a further two months

The retired firefighter, who served as a crew manager across Portsmouth for 30 years, has recovered about ‘75 per cent’ of his mobility.

But he is still left physically exhausted by the most simple of tasks like getting dressed or ‘walking 20 yards’, with doctors saying it may take two or more years until he is fully recovered.

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‘This virus has ravaged me, it’s unrelenting.’ he said. ’My physical ability right now is somewhere between a three and five-year-old’s. I have got two grandchildren at this age. They beat me at arm wrestling because my arms are so weak.’

Mark has since praised the work of QA medics, with his Pat adding: ‘They were absolutely amazing. They all deserve a big pay rise.’

Mark, who is currently employed by Hampshire County Council’s library service, hopes to be back to fighting fitness in the next 18 months.