More than £50k raised for woman at risk at being "internally decapitated" from freak accident

More than £50k raised for woman at risk at being "internally decapitated" from freak accident


A woman is in a race against time to raise £350,000 for life-saving surgery after a freak ceiling fan accident left her at risk of being "internally decapitated".

Mum-of-one Rachel Pighills, 35, is trying to raise enough funds for pioneering surgery in America after she was left with a rare condition that could kill her at any moment.

In August 2018 she had been moving into a new house when she struck her head on a ceiling fan while standing on a bed, leaving her with horrific injuries.

Rachel was left with atlantoaxial instability and basilar invagination - which means her brain is sinking into her spinal canal and her skull is sliding down onto her neck.

It means she can no longer turn her head the wrong way as each time she does her spine partially dislocates, increasing her risk of paralysis or death.

Doctors said her neck can no longer support the weight of her head and one wrong move could cause total dislocation or "internal decapitation".

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Her husband Guy, 41, says her condition is “deteriorating day-by-day" as the family desperately continue to raise the funds which could potentially save her life.

More than £50,000 raised for woman at risk at being 'internally decapitated' after freak accidentSteve Chatterley/SWNS

Guy, of Pershore, Worcestershire, said: "It has been soul-destroying to see her deteriorate. Her breathing is horrendous - she is having to force herself to breathe at the moment.

"Because of the brain stem compression, the signals are all incorrect. The brain stem subconsciously controls everything.

"Her heart rate can go from 60 to 140 in the click of a finger. The signals are getting confused.

"There is no quality of life now, she is just gasping for breath. She ideally needs none-invasive therapy for her breathing but it is complicated.

"She is suffering from central apnoea during the day too - sometimes she just stops breathing for a moment.

"She is constant agony, it is relentless. I genuinely can't remember her having a good day since she had her first surgery.

"It has left me feeling heartbroken and helpless. The surgeries are high risk, but without them Rachel will die."

After receiving £58,000 in donations from well-wishers, the family are looking at different options to help save Rachel’s life, but are still short of their £350,000 target.

One option for the family is a complex operation in New York by Dr Paolo Bolognese - the only surgeon in the world prepared to do the procedure.

Guy said that even though the family are continuing to explore their options, travelling abroad could be fraught with difficulty.

Guy, a quality inspector, added: "We are still fundraising. We are doing extremely well. There is still a long way to go however.

"We have raised over £40,000 which is fantastic but because the medical procedure is in New York, we will need to get an Air Ambulance to get there.

"That trip to New York isn't without its difficulties: the changes in the air pressure and altitude, and she may need oxygen.

“It could affect her in a dangerous way. We will need medical supervision throughout.

"With that, there is no guarantee that Rachel will survive the surgery - but then again, she might not survive without the surgery.”

He said they are faced with two options: risk having the surgery, or risk not having the surgery. But the surgery could leave her paralysed, or worse, dead.

Guy continued: "We are not fooling ourselves that this will be the fairy tale ending. We have to prepare ourselves for the worst in surgery, if we get there.

"We are continuing discussions with Dr Paolo Bolognese at the moment. We've looked at India too but we haven't fully pursued that yet.

"We are not ruling anything out. We don't think we will be able to get treatment in this country but that has not stopped us searching.

"It is a race against time now, I don't like to think about it but the longer she is like this, without treatment, the worse she is going to get - she will die.

"There are so many complex aspects to this and we don't know what the final straw will be. No doctor can tell us a deadline.”

In January last year, Rachel underwent Occipital Spinal Fusion surgery in the UK which was hoped would improve her quality of life.

Guy added: “Her skull was fixed to her spine with rods and screws, and a piece of bone from her skull and spine was removed to create more room for her brain.

“The surgeon was new to this procedure and thought that this would relieve the compression from her brainstem.

“Sadly, this has not been the case, and we eventually learnt that Rachel’s surgery had failed.”

More than £50,000 raised for woman at risk at being 'internally decapitated' after freak accidentSteve Chatterley/SWNS

Three-and-a-half years on from the freak accident Guy said the family are trying to stay positive for Rachel.

Guy said: “It is difficult for the family, but we are trying to stay positive for her. Our daughter is dealing with it well.

"I find it really hard sometimes; I try and pretend it is not happening. I try and block it out but have to do all you can to help.”

Speaking previously, Rachel said: “I live in constant fear of paralysis and death. It's hard to describe that feeling.

"I’m a determined person and I have to try and do what I can. I know I can’t give up."

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SWNS reporting by Bradley Stokes.

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