Evita was bought a therapy dog to help her cope with Nutcracker syndrome, a rare condition causing her agonising pain.
A brilliant student, destined to become a quantum physicist, whose life has been blown apart by a rare chronic illness causing agonising pain has told how a shaggy sheepdog has become her salvation.
Diagnosed with median arcuate ligament syndrome (MALS), May-Thurner syndrome and nutcracker syndrome (NCS), in October 2017 –all of which affect the kidney and abdominal area and cause excruciating pain – Evita Gamber, 22, who is studying mathematics and physics at University College London, was devastated.
Desperate to help her ailing daughter, in July 2018 her teaching assistant mum Anette , 47, took her to Tuscany in Italy on holiday, where they met Bo, a Maremma Sheepdog puppy, then six-weeks-old – and she fell in love.
Evita, who now lives in Oval, south London, with Anette and Bo, said: “We were renting a house in Tuscany and met a local farmer who had dogs.
“They are not normally friendly towards people, but the older dog immediately came up to me and we had a real connection.
“So, at the end of our stay, the farmer kindly said to us that I should take one of the dog’s puppies and I chose Bo, because I felt like he and I had been close.”
Now, Bo is set to be trained as an assistance dog, so he can tend to Evita’s growing needs.
She continued: “He is already hugely helpful to me. I’m quite tough and don’t like to show when I’m struggling, but he detects these things, so stays close and watches me to make sure I’m OK.
“There are also times when I pass out from exhaustion or pain and he is there to either try to rouse me, or go and alert other people.”
She continued: “But most importantly, he’s an excellent friend to me. There are times with this condition that I feel very alone and having him though helps me to stay strong and try and get through this hellish illness.”
When Evita first moved to London to study in September 2015, she was planning to spend her three years at university making new friends and working hard, so she might one day become an academic in quantum gravity.
When a mysterious and persistent pain in her abdomen developed the following summer, she was horrified to discover that what she had believed to be indigestion was actually a serious condition, which would seriously disrupt the next few years of her life.
“I had never had any kind of illness before. Kids at school used to joke that I was never ever ill, apart from the very rare occasion when I might catch flu,” she explained.
“And so I didn’t go to the doctors about it for some time, even though the pain was quite severe, because I just thought, ‘I’m not the kind of person who ever really gets ill.'”
When a week of pain was compounded by nausea, she finally saw her doctor, who could not find anything obvious wrong.
But, as the weeks wore on, the pain continued – becoming so extreme that in November she took herself to A&E in London four times, only to be told by medical experts that there was nothing overtly the matter with her and that she should just take pain killers.
By Christmas, her weight had also dropped slightly, from 52kg to 48kg (8st 2lb to 7st 6lb), as eating made the pain worse and Evita was now seriously concerned about her health, which was affecting both her work and leisure.
An ultramarathon runner before falling ill, she said: “Everything was starting to get very difficult for me as I was in constant pain.”
She continued: “Then on Christmas Day 2015 I experienced another heavy attack of stomach cramps along with pain in my chest, which made me unable to move.
“I went to my local hospital in Germany, where I was spending the festivities, and an ultrasound scan revealed that I was a bit constipated.
“I was advised to take stool softeners and have a colonoscopy at some point, but flew back to London and thought everything would calm down now.”
Instead, she found herself suffering unbearable agony and her constipation – which meant she only went to the bathroom once every two weeks – was stopping her from eating.
Frustrated by the lack of answers she seemed to be getting from the medical profession, she started doing her own research into her symptoms.
Eventually, she found something called vascular compression syndrome – a rare disorder that occurs when a vein or artery is squeezed by another internal part of the body – and, thinking it sounded similar, in October 2017 wrote to a German specialist in the Leipzig.
As a result, in October 2017, Evita was diagnosed with MALS and nutcracker syndrome (NCS) – a form of vascular compression so named because the renal vein that connects the kidney and the heart is ‘cracked’ between two other arteries.
Immediate surgery to reduce the pressure on the celiac and renal arteries was recommended and on November 6 2017 she went under the knife for an eight-hour operation in hospital.
Left with a long scar from the bottom of her rib cage to below her belly button, Evita hoped that now her nightmare would be over.
Unfortunately, though, the surgery was not successful, meaning she needed two further operations within the following two weeks to fix complications of the first surgery.
With a three month recovery period, Evita had to put her studies on hold – still experiencing no reprieve from the constant pain in her left side.
“The abdominal pain went for a short while, but then it became a whole lot worse in the left side of my torso,” said Evita.
She added: “It was so bad – even worse than it had been before my operations – that I was in hospital for months and then at home with my mum in Germany, totally unable to do anything, or even go out of the house.”
Despite still living with constant pain, Evita returned to London in September 2018, to try and complete her studies – with her mum and Bo following them in January 2019 to assist with her care and drive her around, as she could not walk far.
Feeling like “someone is stabbing a knife constantly” into her back, her one real joy is nine-month-old Bo.
She said: “By the time I met Bo, my pain was so bad that I was often fainting and I could rarely leave the house.
“I had been thinking that perhaps it would be a good idea to get a therapy dog, as a way of helping look after me and keeping me company, and when I saw him I knew that he would be perfect.”
With a renal vein transposition – a procedure in which the vein will be moved and hopefully no longer compressed – planned at St Mary’s Hospital, London soon, Evita remains hopeful it could finally relieve her pain.
She said: “Hopefully, this will be a huge step forwards for me, giving me the pain relief I desperately need.
“When I have bad days, I close my eyes and think back to the past, to the summer of 2016 when I was pain-free and able to run and enjoy life.
“I want to get back to that place but, for the moment, I just try to think positively and enjoy the days when the pain isn’t so bad.”
“Having my mum here with me helps a lot, as I am unable to get through the day by myself now.
“And Bo has been wonderful too. It isn’t that he is able to reduce the pain for me, but just having a companion with you through dark times is very comforting.”
Evita is taking civil action and criminal action against Prof. Sandmann, who performed surgery on her in November 2017 at Mettmann Hospital.
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