‘Internally decapitated’ woman learns to walk again after horror ceiling fan accident

A mum-of-one who suffered a traumatic spinal injury in a ceiling fan accident has revealed she is improving just months after undergoing ground-breaking surgery in Barcelona.

Rachel Pighills was moving house when the blade of a ceiling fan struck her in the back of the neck, causing her brain to sink into her spine in something called ‘atlantoaxial instability’ – an extremely dangerous condition that can cause death.

This ‘internal decapitation’, left Rachel in severe pain and even struggling with her breathing which had begun to deteriorate rapidly.

The condition also left Rachel in an extremely fragile state, unable to turn her head for fear of worsening her injury or becoming paralysed.

However, over a number of years and after a huge fundraising effort, her husband, Guy, 42, managed to raise £350,000 to pay for pioneering surgery that could hugely improve Rachel’s condition and quality of life that isn’t currently available on the NHS.

They reached their total goal earlier this year when a kind stranger, a woman in her 60s from Warwick, loaned the couple £130,000.

With the money raised, in May, the couple travelled the 17-hour 1,055 mile journey to Barcelona in a second-hand ambulance they had bought as Rachel was too unstable to fly.

At Teknon Hospital, she underwent a 13 hour long surgery where metal rods were inserted into her spine and her skull and brainstem were reset. After four weeks in hospital, Rachel made the return journey home in the ambulance.

Now, 6 months later, Rachel has shared her remarkable recovery and says she is defying expectations, now able to walk again.

She said: “The bone growth has been what you’d expect at 12 months, not six months. It’s normally a year before you start turning a corner like this.

“Around early November I was able to go for a proper walk. I couldn’t walk like I could do now and it just feels amazing. It is a miracle recovery but I’ve still got a long way to go.”

She no longer uses a wheelchair and has ditched the neck brace that before her surgery, she was unable to remove for fear of further injury or paralysis.

Rachel continues to be hopeful that things will only get better as her recovery continues and is thrilled to be gaining some of her life back. Since the surgery, she had even been able to return to Barcelona, but this time for fun, visiting the zoo with her husband and 14 – year-old daughter.

She said: “I am grateful to the woman who loaned us the money. She really is our guardian angel. What better gift to give than the gift of life?”

The couple are now attempting to raise money to repay the kind stranger who enabled Rachel’s surgery to go ahead.