‘The NHS is precious and a unique, caring health service’
Moving across Europe from Greece to the UK can be a challenging experience, without the added ordeal of undergoing lengthy hospital treatment.
Zoi Anastasa moved to the UK from Greece in 2012. However, after living in Plymouth for almost two years, she became unwell in November 2014. During a visit to University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) she was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA) vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disease.
This has led to Zoi becoming a frequent visitor to UHP as the debilitating condition left her in extreme pain, severely exhausted and, at times, even unable to move. However, despite her prolonged trauma and treatment, Zoi has an overwhelmingly positive view of the UK’s NHS.
“The hospitality part is much better than it is in my country,” says Zoi, who now lives in Plymouth with her partner and her son. “They changed the bed linen, and they washed me daily when I was unable to do it myself. The care in the UK is the same for everyone and that was something I had never experienced before.
“The NHS is precious. I don’t think people here can understand that you have a unique, caring health service here in the UK. It has its flaws – such as no check-ups for young people to prevent illnesses, it is more about aftercare than prevention and it can be very slow – but it works.”
When Zoi first became unwell, she visited her GP who diagnosed her two ulcers as a skin infection. However, she suddenly became much more unwell. “I had shortness of breath, nosebleeds, high temperature and blood pressure, joint swelling and pain – I was unable to move without support – fatigue and a skin rash. I was sent to hospital by my GP who suspected rheumatic autoimmune disease.”
Once at UHP, Zoi was seen by a number of doctors including Dermatologist Dr Thurein Ne Win who was the first to suggest it could be vasculitis. “In my opinion, without his knowledge my diagnosis could have been delayed as my case is not a textbook case,” Zoi says.
Consultant Rheumatologist, Dr Jon King, and his team then went on to diagnose Zoi’s condition.
“Dr King has been amazing,” Zoi says. “He listens to me and treated me as an equal from the beginning. After the first part of my treatment, I was very unwell and couldn’t participate in decisions about my health care to begin with, he has always been involved in my care.
“I am very grateful to him and the team. They have been looking after me for eight years. Furthermore, Dr King was the one who suggested to me to contact Vasculitis UK for information about my illness. If you Google it, as I did, you get the impression that patients with GPA vasculitis die in three to five years from diagnosis – and in a way [Dr King’s suggestion] changed my life path. Having doctors like Dr King, giving early diagnosis and proper treatment, is what our community needs.”
She adds: “The specialist rheumatology nurses need to be praised as well. I even called them from abroad once and they were very supportive.
“The Specialist Physiotherapist I see in the pain clinic, Richard Walters, has also changed my life. I wish I had been referred to him at the beginning of my journey. He is a knight in shining armour. I have learned so much from him in a year and he helped me come to terms with my illnesses and disabilities.”
Zoi, who previously worked at a secondary school in Plymouth and is now working for Vasculitis UK, a small charity that supports people with vasculitis, also pays tribute to “the young doctors” who have cared for her.
“I saw Dr Rory Crowder at my last appointment. He had never seen me before, but he had studied my file, was very thorough and I left feeling that I am in very good hands indeed.”
“Lastly, I want to mention my doctor’s secretary, Sharon Tozer. She is on the other end of the phone or replies to my emails whenever I need to contact the team. She is brilliant.”
Zoi is in full remission from her condition but remains afflicted by some ever-present symptoms.
For more information about vasculitis and how to receive support for the condition, visit https://www.vasculitis.org.uk/.