How a simple make-up brush left a mum wheelchair bound

AS SHE swept a friend's make-up brush across her face, Warwick woman Jo Gilchrist could never have imagined she was triggering a battle that would force her to fight for her life.

The bristles of that brush gently glided over a pimple on her face and are most likely how a staph infection invaded her body.

The insidious bacteria eventually travelled to and attacked her spine, leaving her writhing in pain and her body going numb.


Just over a month since the onset, the young mum of one is now wheelchair-bound and will call the spinal ward of the Princess Alexandra Hospital home for at least the next three months.

Initially told she would never walk again, her best-case outlook is she may one day be able to walk an hour or two a day.

But she will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

She will never again have control of her bowel or bladder and has no sexual function.

Never again will she chase her two-year-old son Tommy around the yard.

Her life has been thrown into turmoil since that day in February when she noticed something was seriously wrong.

"It started as a dull ache and I thought it was my bad posture but it got worse and worse and got to the point I had to call one of those doctors who come to you because I couldn't get out of bed," she said.

"I rate the pain worse than childbirth; I literally thought I was going to die."

Days later things took a turn for the worst when Jo started to lose the feeling in her legs.

"They told me if it went up my arms and chest I would have to learn to breathe again and it would be my parents' decision to turn the machines off," she said.

"It was horrible when I heard that but I also got this incredible fight for life. I knew I had to keep fighting because I didn't want to not be able to see my son grow up. Before I got airlifted out I could feel (the paralysis) going up my arms and I was trying to fight it and keep my arms moving."

Jo later learned she contracted community-associated MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant form of golden staph.

She was told it had damaged her spine and she would be restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

But she kept fighting.

"They first said I would never walk again but I got a wiggle out of my toes and I just kept fighting," she said.

"This has been a real wake-up call. Before this I was just going through the motions and existing but now I have a huge fight for life. If someone tells me I can't do something, I keep going because just the look on their faces when I do it is worth it."

On top of dealing with the huge physical trauma and changes her body is going through, single mum Jo is fighting the emotional battle of being away from her son.

The little boy who is too young to understand his mummy can't come home.

"He hates it and I don't see him very often because he is in Warwick," she said.

"I can't talk to him on the phone because he throws tantrums and won't say goodbye but won't hang up.

"When he comes here he screams when he has to leave and it is heartbreaking to see him leave like that."

ABOVE: A visit with her friend, Bec Bolzan.
ABOVE: A visit with her friend, Bec Bolzan. Contributed

Jo now faces Easter, Mother's Day and her son's third birthday away from the main man in her life.

"I would rather him not be here on those days because I want him to be happy all day and not upset when he has to say goodbye," she said.

Although devastated by being away from her son, Jo reminds herself there are better days ahead.

"I have pictures of him and his drawings all over the walls and I look at them every day," she said.

"It will feel like a lifetime but at least I will get to go home to him in July and it will be OK.

"This is the best possible place for me."

This week Jo was on a high after mastering a "wheelie" in her wheelchair, a skill she had to master before being able to venture out on trips in her chair.

She is trying to remain positive about her future.

"There are so many people worse off than me - I am lucky really," she said.

"There are people in here who are in automatic chairs because they can't use their hands.

"I think it's a good thing I am in a wheelchair because I am a bit of speed demon - I'm pretty good."

As she works on her recovery, Jo's friends have been working on their own project. Trying to boost her spirits, they reached out to Jo's favourite musician Seth Sentry to visit her in hospital.

Although he was busy on a tour, Seth sent a personal message to the Warwick mum and passed on his best wishes in her recovery. "Even if he hadn't sent the message, it was just so amazing to know that people tried to help," Jo said.


To follow Jo's progress search #jolovessethsentry on Facebook and who knows, maybe Seth might visit Jo after all. 


 About one-third of healthy people carry staph bacteria on their skin or in their nose.

 Drug-resistant strains are known as MRSA

 MRSA strains can cause skin and soft tissue infections, however can also become serious and life-threatening

Topics:  editors picks staph infection warwick

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