Hereford & Worcester

Woman with severe head condition seeks Spain operation

Rachel Pighills and husband Guy
Image caption Rachel Pighills and husband Guy are preparing to fly to Barcelona

A woman with a severe condition which threatens her life if she moves her head in the wrong way is flying to Spain to seek treatment.

Doctors have told Rachel Pighills, 33, from Worcestershire, her neck can no longer support the weight of her head.

A simple turn to the left could cause her cervical spine to dislocate, leading to possible death, she said.

Mrs Pighills added she was "terrified" of the flight to Barcelona but was being "strong" for her child.

The mother-of-one, from Pershore, was diagnosed with a number of life-threatening head and spinal conditions in July, including basilar invagination.

She said only three surgeons in the world could carry out the specialist £135,000 surgery she needs, which is not available in the UK.

A crowdfunding bid has so far raised more than £12,000.

Image copyright Rachel Pighills
Image caption Mrs Pighills, pictured before she was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition this summer

Mrs Pighills is making the four-day trip for a number of MRI scans.

"My brain is slumping into my spinal canal and the back of my head is unstable," she said.

"It partially dislocates when I turn to the left. If it fully dislocates that's internal decapitation and I would die instantly."

She can only wear a neck brace for four hours a day due to the possibility of muscle wastage.

Condition and treatment

  • Basilar invagination happens when the top of the spine pushes into the base of the skull
  • The 33-year-old also has atlantoaxial instability, causing neck movement difficulties; platybasia, a spinal disease; and cervical medullary syndrome, caused by brain compression
  • If she has surgery and it is successful, it could cure the problems
  • The first operation would remove her axis vertebra bone, which is compressing her brain, while a second would see her skull and neck fused together

Mrs Pighills, a supply chain manager, said getting on to a plane to visit her surgeon had left her "absolutely terrified".

"I'm thinking about pressure in cabin, the force of take-off and being pinned to the back of the chair," she said.

"I just don't know how my body is going to react whatsoever."

Image copyright Sue James
Image caption Guy Pighills says he wants Rachel to regain her independence

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Her husband Guy, 39, said he feared for his wife every day.

"I'll be at work and terrified thinking what am I going to come home to find? Will she be OK?

"I'd love for her to get the surgery and get a bit of normality and independence back in her life."

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