Thursday, 28 January 2010

One Bubbly Soap Star

Channel 4’s teen soap Hollyoaks welcomes the latest addition to its roster of characters. Kelly-MarieStewart is blonde, bubbly and beautiful. And, as she tells Cathy Reay, she’s about to make the most of her break to sell disability into the mainstream

Kelly 1Kelly-Marie Stewart has got plenty to say, she’s got the world at her feet, only she can’t move her legs.

“I don’t think it’s wrong to be curious about why I’m in a wheelchair,” says the 24-year-old Liverpudlian actress. Speaking in between shooting scenes for her new role,Kelly-Marie, who has Guillain-Barré syndrome, says she is excited to be one of the only actresses with a visible impairment currently playing a prominent role on a popular soap.

“There are so many conditions that people aren’t aware of and have never heard of. This is a good way of raising awareness of disability generally. People still seem to see a wheelchair as a problem [when trying to work in acting] but, in this day and age, it’s not.”

At least, that’s her story: “I’ve been in a chair for two-and-a-half years and have never been turned down for something because of it,” she explains while getting into her character.

Kelly-Marie’s rare condition, which affects around 1,500 people a year in the UK, is marked by degenerative paralysis of the legs, arms and, in some cases, chest. “I am stabilised from the waist down, which is very fortunate,” she says.

“Initially I couldn’t bear any weight on my legs but over time I’ve become a lot stronger. I’ve gone through two-and-a-half years of intensive therapy so that my legs can hold me up, but I have no movement.”

When Kelly-Marie came out of hospital two-and-a-half years ago, she was forced to face the prospect of spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Going through that change, she says, has meant that she and the people she surrounds herself with had to learn a lot very quickly.

After attending theatrical academies Elliott Clarke and Liverpool Theatre School in her teenage years, Kelly-Marie enjoyed modelling for several accessible designers including WheelieChix-Chic at London Fashion Week. She’s also appeared in television adverts alongside footballer Darren
Campbell for Sky and another for the charity Liveability.

When she read about the auditions for established character Zak Ramsey’s little sister Hayley, Kelly-Mariejumped at the opportunity.

“The castings and callbacks went on for quite a long time. Normally characters aren’t cast so far in advance but it just so happened that Hayley was, so by the time they had chosen me most of her storylines hadn’t yet been written,” she explains.

It handily meant that the soap’s writers could easily write Kelly-Marie’s condition into her role.

“They weren’t looking for someone with an impairment when the role was cast so I think it’s important to address the reason behind Hayley being in a wheelchair,” says Kelly-Marie.

“If someone comes into a TV programme in a wheelchair, it’s natural for people to want to know why. It’s exactly the same as if someone walked onto the EastEnders set with a black eye; people want to ask how they got it.”

As Kelly-Marie is introduced into the fold, her onscreen brother Zak has difficulties coming to terms with his sister’s condition. But, Kelly-Marie is confident that it will soon be forgotten.

“Hayley is going to fall into things quite normally; she’ll become part of the furniture. She actually ends up with a love interest. It just had to be addressed initially in the same way as any other new character’s background would be.”

When she arrived on the Hollyoaks set, in what was to be her first experience of continual television acting,Kelly-Marie says she was nervous of how her colleagues would deal with her condition.

“It was a worry for me, how everyone would adapt, but the cast and crew have been brilliant.

Kelly 2Obviously it’s a new learning curve to have a wheelchair permanently on set, but everyone has adapted really well.”

Although at the time of writing she’s only been filming for a few weeks, Kelly-Marie has already palled up behind the scenes with her co-stars. “Everyone is so welcoming; being on set is a great laugh. I’m making friends all the time, particularly with Kent who plays my brother Zak.”

As she settles into the soap, Kelly-Marie’s happy-go-lucky character is set to develop several relationships with other cast members. “My contract was initially signed for the standard six months, but my storylines at the moment go beyond that,” says Kelly-Mariehappily.

But she’s certainly not getting a big head about it all; she dismisses our suggestion of dreaming about starring in a film alongside Johnny Depp with a loud laugh, explaining: “For now I just want to concentrate on what I’m doing. Obviously it’s in my interest to make sure this goes okay and that it’s a success.”

Kelly-Marie also hopes that, through her new line of work, she is able to break the mould and show other people with impairments that they can follow their dreams. “If it’s within reason to make adaptations, anyone should be allowed to do whatever they want to.

“Sure, I’ve been on aeroplanes and I realise that maybe someone like me couldn’t be a stewardess, but if you want to act or do something like work in the police, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to.”

Because her particular condition has deteriorated, Kelly-Marie wasn’t always in a wheelchair, and going through that change, she says, has meant that she and the people she surrounds herself with had to learn a lot very quickly.

“Before I was in a chair, I never really spent anytime with anyone that was disabled in the same way.

My family and friends, from spending time around me, have learnt a lot, so if people see me on screen hopefully the character can raise awareness and make people think about things like that.”

Her innocent, bubbly personality, sweet childlike voice and stunning looks are all attributes of a star in the making. The fact that she’s in a wheelchair clearly doesn’t affect Kelly-Marie’s perception of her capabilities (“I’ve always been a determined girl”) and she’s excited to see what the public will make of her new role.

“If this could influence people in any way, well that’s a really good thing. At the end of the day, it can only be positive, can’t it?”

Well, we certainly think so.

Kelly-Marie’s character Hayley Ramsey first appeared in Hollyoaks at the end of last month.

Guillain Barre Syndrome - When Legs (and More) Turn to Rubber

Looking on helplessly while a wave of weakness climbs one's body from the ankles upward can cause dismay. This is what happens in Guillain Barre (pronounced GHEE-on bah-RAY) syndrome, known more formally as acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy. Occurring in just one or two people per year in a population of 100,000, Guillain Barre syndrome makes up for its rarity by taking people by surprise and quickly disabling them.

Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy is about as bulky and awkward a name as there is, but the terminology has the endearing feature of encoding the disease's essential features. Starting from the back end and working forwards, "-pathy" means illness; "neuro" says that the peripheral nerves are involved; "radiculo" means that the spinal nerves emanating from the spinal cord are also affected; "poly" means it's a widespread process; "demyelinating" means that the nerve-fibers are stripped of their sheath-like myelin coverings; "inflammatory" means a local tissue reaction to biochemical or physical irritation; and "acute" means that the disease develops rapidly over a matter of days. Despite the lesson in medical terminology provided by the full name, it's easy to see why the condition often goes by the shorter names of AIDP or Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS).

Georges Guillain and Jean-Alexandre Barre described cases of this condition among French soldiers in the First World War. It is noteworthy that the condition is labeled a "syndrome," rather than a disease, because it is likely that multiple disease-processes can produce the same pattern of clinical illness (syndrome).

Diagnosing GBS involves recognizing the typical pattern of progressing symptoms in which a loss of strength works its way up the legs and often even into the arms and breathing muscles. The symptoms quickly worsen over a matter of days, even hours, and the weakness typically peaks within 2-3 weeks of the onset of symptoms. Although the affected peripheral nerves and spinal nerves also conduct messages concerning bodily sensation, sensory loss in GBS is typically a minor component, while weakness -- caused by disruption of nerves carrying messages to muscles -- predominates.

The physical exam confirms the muscular weakness and, when present, the associated numbness. Another classic finding on examination is a loss of (rubber-hammer-type) tendon reflexes. Supplemental tests that help confirm the diagnosis -- or, depending on their outcome, point in another direction -- are nerve conduction studies and cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Nerve conduction studies check the electrical characteristics of the peripheral nerves. In GBS the nerve impulses are often slowed or blocked on their way from one part of the nerve to another. Cerebrospinal fluid is the watery liquid bathing the outside of the brain, spinal cord and spinal nerves. It is obtained for analysis by means of a lumbar puncture, also known as spinal tap. In GBS the protein content of the fluid is increased without any corresponding increase in the numbers of red or white blood cells in the fluid.

The cause of GBS is unknown, but because it often follows an infection or other challenge to the body's immune system and also involves inflammation, it seems likely that GBS is the result of an overactive immune system. If so, GBS is one of several so-called autoimmune diseases in which the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks a component of the body, in this case the myelin coverings of individual nerve-fibers. Other examples of autoimmune disease are rheumatoid arthritis, in which the immune system attacks the joints, and psoriasis, in which the immune system attacks the skin.

A case series refers to a collection of consecutive cases sharing agreed-upon features. Analyzing a case series provides insight into how variable the illness can be as well as which features are more constant.

Between 1995 and 2003 researchers at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, collected a case series of 34 patients with GBS. The ages of the patients ranged from 3 to 70, and 62% were male. In 35% of the cases there was a preceding gastrointestinal infection and in another 26% of the cases there was a preceding respiratory infection. Breathing failed in 56% of the cases, requiring mechanical ventilation. One patient died.

Despite the frequently devastating nature of GBS, most patients improve, albeit slowly. Compiling a separate case series, investigators at the Centre for Rehabilitation Research in Orebro, Sweden, tracked the progress of 42 patients with this illness. Mechanical ventilation was necessary in just 21% of their cases. At 2 weeks, 1 year and 2 years after the onset of symptoms, 0%, 38% and 45% of patients had completely normal strength. At the same time points, 38%, 90% and 93% were able to walk 30 feet without assistance.

Treatment is available for patients with GBS. Of course, when patients can't breathe on their own, using a mechanical ventilator to support respiration is a form of treatment and is usually life-saving. Two other treatments have been shown by randomized, controlled trials -- the gold standard method for evaluating a treatment -- to hasten recovery in GBS.

One is plasmapheresis, also known as plasma exchange, in which the liquid portion of the blood (plasma) is separated from the blood cells. The blood cells are then returned to the patient's body, and the body produces more plasma on its own to replace the plasma that was removed. The reason plasmapheresis works is uncertain, but it probably removes damaging antibodies from the bloodstream.

Infusing immunoglobulin into the patient's bloodstream is the other treatment of proven effectiveness. The immunoglobulin preparation contains antibodies pooled from a large number of healthy donors. These healthy antibodies presumably counteract the injurious antibodies produced in the GBS patient.

One might think that two treatments -- plasmapheresis and immunoglobulin infusion -- administered together or in succession would be better than just one, but that is not the case. A study showed that the two treatments in combination were no better in hastening recovery than one treatment.

(C) 2006 by Gary Cordingley

Gary Cordingley, MD, PhD, is a clinical neurologist, teacher and researcher who works in Athens, Ohio. For more health-related articles see his website at:

H1N1 Swine Flu - Myth Or Truth - Guillain Barre's Syndrome and Mercury Toxicity By Red O'Laughlin

I've been researching H1N1 Swine Flu and noted the same objections about taking the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine. For instance - The vaccine has not been tested effectively. Did you know that in 1976 over 40,000,000 Americans were vaccinated for swine flu and thousands of healthy individuals developed Guillain Barre's Syndrome which is a severe neurological disorder?

My first thought was that 1976 was such a long time ago and things have certainly improved since then. Then do a little research and find out what the real number are. In 1976, the Guillain Barré Syndrome risk was around 1 in 80,000 and the actual number Guillain Barre's syndrome that occurred directly as a result of the vaccine was around 500. Today, the estimated risk of contracting Guillain Barre'sSyndrome from the flu vaccine is less than one in one million.

That is a risk, a probability of contracting Guillain Barre's Syndrome directly from a vaccination. But, there are also risks that infections derived from flu, virus or bacterial source can cause Guillain Barre's Syndrome. What about the risk of not getting vaccinated? The risk of serious illness or death directly attributable to the typical flu virus can be shown to be between one in one thousand (death) and one in six thousand (hospitalization).

Another myth I read about is that the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine contains mercury ten times the level considered to be safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury is used as a preservative and is called thimerosal. First off, the H1N1 Swine Flu nasal spray contains no thimerosal or any other kind of mercury. The prefilled single-dose vaccine needles from Novartis have trace amounts (less than one microgram per dose) of thimerosal. The prefilled single-dose needles from CSL Limited and Sanofi Pasteur contain no thimerosal. Multidose injections contain around 25 micrograms of mercury per dose. This is still well under the legal limits allowed. If you are curious about mercury exposure from other sources - look up the amount of mercury in a can of tuna fish. The amount is much higher and the form (not thimerosal) is more dangerous.

The world is much smaller now and all of us have the ability to do a little research online to determine the risks associated with the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine. Read both sides of the story. Research each statement till you are satisfied that it is true or false. You are responsible for your health. The risk of not doing something is sometimes much greater than the risk of doing it. Look at the locales in our country where general health vaccinations have been shunned because of false beliefs. The actual percentage increase in those locales for the diseases that the vaccines were to protect against have risen higher than the national norm. Why? Will people die from the H1N1 vaccination? My guess is Yes. Will people die if they don't get the vaccine and contract H1H1 Swine Flu? My guess is again, Yes. Can you supplement your health with non-prescription options? Yes, and I recommend that you look into those options as part of your normal health program.

Red O'Laughlin is currently redirecting his life's experiences. After retiring from the military and industry, Red has found interests in motivation, self-improvement, nutrition, fitness and personal growth. Red provides information of health, nutrition and fitness at Sign up for his newsletter.