A young mum has been left without movement from the chest down after regularly inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons.
24-year-old Olivia Golding from Bristol was getting through around 15 balloons full of ‘laughing gas’ at the weekend, while her three-year-old son Parker stayed with his dad.
Sometimes referred to as ‘hippy crack,’ nitrous oxide is known to cause spinal damage, with some cases resulting in irreversible impairment to the nervous system.
Olivia woke up one morning to find herself unable to move, and was forced to ask young Parker to get her phone to ring for help. It was clear something was very wrong.
After being rushed to hospital, tests found Olivia had contracted Lichtheim’s disease – which causes spinal cord degeneration – on account of her nitrous oxide use.
Speaking with the Mail Online, the car salesperson recalled:
About a month before I was doing a balloon and I got pins and needles in my neck and back. I started feeling numb in my body.
But I never dreamt it was the balloons so I just carried on doing them.
One day I was walking in the park with my son and taking him swimming, the next day I couldn’t move.
Left without feeling from the chest down, Olivia is now learning to walk and use her hands again and has so far taken 12 steps with the assistance of physiotherapists.
She is now looking at a lengthy rehabilitation period, with a significant stay in hospital required.
Olivia explained to the Mail Online the heartbreaking ways in which Lichtheim’s disease has affected her life:
They [hospital staff] asked me if I took NOS and I was like, ‘Sure, I’ve done a lot of them’.
I cannot even put Parker’s shoes on for him and it’s the things like that [which] break my heart. My son wants me to play with him and I can’t do that. I can’t feel my legs, my whole body is twitching.
I cannot take myself to the toilet, feed myself or have a drink.
Lichtheim’s disease begins when nitrous oxide deprives a person of vitamin B12, preventing it from being correctly absorbed. This causes destruction to the sheath which protects the nerve fibres associated with movement and sensation.
Olivia is now being given injections of vitamin B12. Most sufferers fully recover if these injections are administered early enough; within a few weeks of symptoms emerging.
However, if treatment is delayed, the person may well experience permanent problems with movement for the remainder of their life.
Selling or importing nitrous oxide for human consumption is illegal. However, it may still be used during medical procedures as well as in catering aerosol cans and engines.
UNILAD wishes Olivia a complete recovery as she continues with her rehabilitation process.
If you want friendly, confidential advice about drugs you can talk to FRANK. You can call 0300 123 6600, text 82111 or email 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Or Live Chat via their website.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.