Written by Samantha Lade, DonateToday
Published: Friday, 23rd March 2018

'I thought it was a Victorian disease': This young law student thought her symptoms were stress-related, before her TB became life-threatening

'I thought it was a Victorian disease': This young law student thought her symptoms were stress-related, before her TB became life-threatening

As a young law student, Amy's attention was on her studies. It was certainly not on TB – something she considered a 'disease of the past'. But soon enough, the symptoms began to show, and her disease became life-threatening. Today – on World TB Day – Amy is sharing her story through TB Alert to help prevent others from suffering as she did.

Study-related Stress?

Young law student Amy was never on the look-out for TB when she got ill.

Like many, she thought the BCG vaccine she'd had as a child would protect her from the 'disease of the past'. 

But not knowing the symptoms, combined with a delay in her diagnosis, led to Amy's TB eventually becoming life-threatening.

'In April 2004, I got antibiotics from the doctor for a dry itchy cough,' recalls Amy. 'I was a busy 24-year-old law student and thought my illness was just stress about my studies.'

But then, her cough increased in severity and Amy started to lose weight.

'The only person who mentioned TB at this stage was my uncle, but I didn't take it seriously, as I'd had my BCG vaccine.'

Her symptoms continued to worsen; just weeks later, Amy had lost two and a half stone, felt fatigued, and also began to experience night sweats. 

"More than 28,000 people fall ill with TB every day. Nearly 5,000 of them die – despite the fact that TB is curable."

- TB Alert

Losing a Lung

Amy then began to face delays whilst awaiting a diagnosis for her illness.

'My hospital appointment took six weeks to come through because the first letter was lost,' explains Amy. 'But then, in April 2005, the hospital did a bronchoscopy and sputum test – and I was diagnosed with TB.'

A month later, a further x-ray went on to show that one of Amy's lungs had collapsed. Yet, although she received physiotherapy for this, and was given the all clear of the infection, she still continued to notice symptoms.

Amy's cough returned, red circles began appearing on her legs and she started to lose weight and feel tired again.

'I was admitted to hospital with a pneumonia-related infection where they found my TB had re-occured,' says Amy. 'Because my lung had collapsed, not all the bacteria had been killed off. 

'In May 2007, I then had an operation to remove my lung.'

Life-changing Peer Support 

Amy has gone on to experience both sides of peer support in relation to her diagnosis. 

'When I was diagnosed with TB, I had to put my university studies on hold, and was feeling isolated and frustrated at the lack of support available,' explains Amy. 

'I wanted to talk to someone personally affected by the illness.'

From there, Amy reached out and called the UK's national tuberculosis charity TB Alert, where she was put in touch with Anna, a member of the charity's TB Action Group.

'We spoke mainly over email and Facebook and then met up. I felt less alone knowing Anna was there and the fact that she'd completed her treatment and graduated from university gave me hope for the future.'

Today, Amy is giving back to the charity by offering her own support to other newly-diagnosed individuals.

She recently provided peer support for Abid, a Pakistani migrant receiving follow-up care for TB at an immigration removal centre in Manchester.

Amy, a keen law student, had to put her studies on hold due to her diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB)

'I visited Abid three times, giving him moral support and reassurance,' says Amy. 'We talked about his care and treatment, and I gave him practical support by liaising with his solicitor.'

As well as this, Amy now acts as a patient advocate for TB Alert, where she aims to help others from suffering as unnecessarily as she did.

"I didn't think I could get it because I'd had the BCG vaccine and wasn't coughing up blood."

- Amy

Staying Alert for TB

TB Alert, who work to tackle TB both here in the UK and amongst the world's communities at highest risk of developing the illness, warn that TB symptoms are often similar to symptoms of other illnesses – such as the flu. 

However, the charity report that the most common symptoms of the infection are: a cough (for three weeks or longer), extreme tiredness, fever, night sweats, loss of appetite and weight loss. 

Amy, who went on to graduate from university and is now at the Race Equality Foundation, finishes: 'Thanks to my family, friends and medical staff, I got better and caught up with my studies.

'When I was diagnosed with TB I was surprised, as I thought it was a Victorian disease, but I was also relieved because I thought it was asthma. Now, I know what signs to look out for.'

This World TB Day, please click here to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the disease on TB Alert's website.