The pain shot through her like electricity, igniting every nerve and making 33-year-old Sam Bulmer scream in agony.
As nurses and doctors raced from every corner of the hospital, her boyfriend Elliott had to watch, as helpless as the medical staff who were stumped by what was happening to heavily pregnant Sam.
‘I thought I was dying,’ Sam tells New Idea. ‘The pain was intense and I was terrified for myself and my baby.’
Sam, who had been rushed to Royal Brisbane Women’s hospital after an identical incident two hours previously, endured 10 minutes of excruciating pain.
And when it subsided, her problems were far from over. ‘I couldn’t move my legs,’ she says. ‘None of the doctors knew what was happening to me. I’d been brought in able to walk and now I couldn’t.’
Sam, who was 37 weeks pregnant, went through a terrifying night, with two more attacks.
It was only the next day when she had an MRI scan that specialists could see what was happening.
‘I had an abnormal cluster of blood vessels known as an AVM deep in my spine,’ she explains.
‘My growing uterus had put pressure on it and it had ruptured, crushing my spinal cord and paralysing me from the waist down.’
Previously completely healthy and with an uncomplicated pregnancy, Sam assumed this was a temporary issue and easily fixed. But as they talked, she realised the doctors were shaking their heads.
‘They told me I was likely to be paralysed for good,’ she chokes. ‘The AVM was so deep that an operation risked death or quadriplegia. In that instant, my world fell apart. How could I be the mummy I’d envisaged if I couldn’t walk?’
Sam’s only hope was an emergency caesarean. Doctors hoped that taking the pressure off her spine would allow mobility to return.
On June 8, Sam and Elliott’s daughter River was born, weighing a teeny 2.5kg, but perfectly healthy.
‘When I woke from the anaesthetic, a nurse put River on my chest and everything changed. I didn’t care what was happening to me. She was perfect and I was so grateful and relieved she was OK,’ Sam smiles.
After that, it was a waiting game. A week after delivery, when Sam’s uterus had contracted, doctor’s hoped she would start getting feeling back in her legs – if it was going to happen at all.
‘I kept looking at my toes, willing myself to wriggle them, but nothing happened,’ Sam reveals. ‘It was awful.’
As days became weeks and she still couldn’t move, Sam realised the worst had happened.
‘All our dreams, everything we’d hoped for came crashing down,’ Sam says. ‘I cried every day. I still do. I’m grieving the life and future we have lost.’
For the full story, see this week's New Idea - Out now.
This article first published on New Idea,