Kelly-Marie Stewart was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome after traveling to the Dominican Republic nine years ago. The actress told the Echo she suspects she may have contracted Zika while there.
Former Hollyoaks star Kelly-Marie Stewart believes she was left in a wheelchair and lost her unborn baby after contracting the Zika virus.
The actress claims she may well have been an early victim of the mosquito-borne illness after travelling to the Dominican Republic nine years ago.
Soon after her trip she was told she had miscarried and was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, losing the use of her legs.
Kelly-Marie, who now uses her married name Lovelady, shared her story with the ECHO after a recent study gave the first evidence the Zika virus might cause the severe neurological disorder.
The former air hostess is urging pregnant women not to travel to countries affected by the virus, which has been blamed for causing miscarriages and the surge in babies with brain damage.
Kelly-Marie says: “I went on holiday for two weeks and while there I came down with flu symptoms, I was aching all over.
“I put it down to picking up a bug, but I was covered from head to toe in mosquito bites – I looked like a Lion bar.
“I was 16 weeks pregnant, and two days before flying out I’d had my scan and everything was fine. I had all the advance tests and the day after getting home I got the results that everything was good.
“But I’d been home a few days and I’d gone back to my normal job at Ryanair and I didn’t feel right, I felt like I was walking on sponge.
“I got in the car that night and I thought there was something up with my car, I felt I wasn’t gauging speed.”
Kelly-Marie’s doctor referred her to Aintree hospital after tests revealed she had little sensation in her legs.
Within minutes she was isolated into a side room because of being in the Dominican Republic, she says.
While in hospital, her legs collapsed and she was transferred to the Walton Centre, before a specialist in Scotland later diagnosed her with Guillain-Barré syndrome.
She says: “I was in hospital for 10 months. I dropped down from nine stone to five stone because I wasn’t able to get out of the bed. I was completely paralysed from the waist down.
“I went in on the Wednesday and on the Friday I started with pains, I told them I was miscarrying.”
Kelly-Marie became the first disabled actress to play a main part in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks in 2008.
She raised awareness for disabled mums when she had her daughter Daisie-Ann five years ago but later defied paralysis and was able to get around on crutches.
In August last year the former soap star, best known for playing Hayley Ramsey, fulfilled her dream of walking down the aisle to marry her boyfriend James Lovelady.
Kelly-Marie says she would love to give Daisie-Ann a baby sister or brother but has put her plans to conceive on hold having booked a holiday to America.
She says: “With it possibly risking an unborn baby, knowing what I’ve been through, we decided to wait. I’d urge anyone planning to conceive or who is pregnant to think twice before travelling to countries affected.
“As a family we were always asked how do you get Guillain-Barré and no one had an answer. I was fit and well before I went to the Dominican, but I only met one other person who had it and she was also an air hostess – I thought it’s surely got to be something to do with going to these countries?
“This is too much of a coincidence. I’ve been paralysed. I’m fortunate to be back on my feet and to have Daisie. But this is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
“We live in a culture it’s never going to happen to us but these warnings are there for a reason.”