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Dubai-based British expat Lisa Sherrington-Boyd raring to go, after a harrowing night in pain. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: British expat Lisa Sharington-Boyd keeps an extremely busy diary. The Dubai-based 52 year old starts her morning with yoga and a hot tub soak, setting a tone of wellness and focus for the day. By mid-AM, she delves into her passion for storytelling and the crafting of her first book.

She then meets with her marketing team to discuss the day’s agenda.

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Post-lunch, she runs an in-person parent workshop at a British school in Dubai, following which she heads to a family home to assist with a toddler’s potty training, a task that has earned her the title of the Potty Queen. She also takes phone calls from other families and businesses, besides working on her insta page and huddling with her team again.

Looking at her, there’s no telling that doctors had given up on her as she lay in a coma battling for her life just three years ago. In fact, just the previous night, she has been up for the most part, out of bed and on the floor, rolling in pain.

“Yes, I was screaming, praying for the spasms in my leg to stop. This has become a routine almost,” she says.

Clearly, Lisa’s bubbling public image belies her private life – one of excruciating pain, which she endures with a never-die spirit.

“There’s no other way,” she reasons, explaining how she suffers from a rare condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis that she inherited from her mum and grandma, and has also passed on to one of her three children.

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Ankylosing Spondylitis is an inflammatory disease caused by a gene variant - HLA-B27 and results in some of the bones in the spine to fuse. In Lisa’s case, she has also been diagnosed with a cyst in her spine, for which she has undergone four rounds of surgery, besides having to cope with the debilitating condition and the violent muscle cramps, for which there is no cure, but only pain management. A gastric sleeve surgery that went horribly wrong also pushed her into a coma which she miraculously woke up from.

How it all began

“It was not until 2019 that I started to feel my drop foot,” says Lisa, who came to Dubai in 2016 when her husband Gary Sharington took up a job here.

Happy times: Lisa with her doting family. Image Credit: Supplied

Having worked as a family officer for a federation of schools in the UK earlier, she helped students excluded from school to get back. She then went on to work with a nursery where students kept her on her toes.

“I lived and breathed my job until the drop-foot began to trouble me. No one could diagnose the problem initially, but it came to a point when I could not even stand up. A detailed investigation thereafter revealed the presence of the rogue gene,” she recalls.

Refusing to get bogged down, Lisa kept pushing herself to work. But things took a turn for the worse when a synovial cyst was discovered in her spine. “After the first seven-hour surgery to remove the cyst, I caught a rare bug infection because my immunity was low. The infection spread to my spine and caused an abyss. Three surgeries and three months in the ICU later, I was discharged from hospital. I can never forget those days when I could barely hold my back together,” she says.

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Lisa with her husband during one of her many hospital stays. Image Credit: Supplied

Picking up the pieces of her crippled life, Lisa decided to return to work on a wheelchair. But as fate would have it, COVID-19 struck, and she was forced to stay home.

The go-getter in Lisa, however, found a break in a radio station which began a series called ‘Happy families with Principal Lisa’, the recordings for which she did from home. “I also began to potty train toddlers on Zoom. When schools reopened, I decided to continue with my virtual sessions,” she shares.

Internal bleeding

By January 2021, Lisa’s spinal condition deteriorated and she suffered a fracture in her vertebrae. As advised by the doctors, she also underwent a gastric sleeve surgery to reduce weight and ease pressure on her spine. But things went awry and she had to be hospitalised again – for four months this time, as a bout of internal bleeding resulted in severe complications.

She vividly remembers how she collapsed and was rushed for an emergency blood transfusion, her rare blood group making things that much more difficult. “Everything went wrong this time, I developed sepsis and my lungs collapsed. I went into a coma for six days. My daughter, who was singing for me as I lay on the bed watched my heart stop and collapsed too – she was so traumatised by my plight,” she recounts.

Lisa says she wasn’t expected to live at all. But three procedures were conducted to revive her lungs and by God’s grace, she managed to turn the corner. When she finally came home, she was still being tube-fed.

She says her near-death experience made her all the more determined to get back on her feet and help others in whatever way she could. When she recovered, she went on an overdrive, packing in everything from parent workshops and potty training to tacking fussy eating and producing a talking-point magazine for parents and children.

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As Lisa curls up in her heat blanket with a hot cup of tea that her supportive husband brings for her, her journey makes her smile. The heartening messages from her clients and students on the phone reaffirm the feeling.

“Pain is all-encompassing. I could either feel sorry for myself or just get out of bed, dress up, put on that lipstick and pursue my passion,” she says, as she readies for another hectic workday.

“When the nights are dark and down, I tell myself that it can’t last forever. The sun will be out soon enough. That’s the unfailing truth that keeps me going,” adds Lisa, who continues to be on steroids and immunity supplements.