Four years ago, Amy Desborough was one of the fittest, most physically motivated women you could wish to meet.
The experienced runner had just begun training for the exceptionally arduous Cross Du Mont Blanc which is one of the most challenging trail runs in the international running calendar.
It begins in Chamonix in the French Alps, at a height of 1,035 metres above sea level, and then proceeds to gain 1,000 metres over its 15-mile duration.
Amy and her husband Andrew, had already completed the marathon on two previous occasions and there was nothing to suggest that their feat couldn’t be achieved once again in 2019.
But then Amy’s life was thrown into turmoil.
“We were out running one morning from our home in Neyland, we hadn’t gone particularly far, and I looked across at Amy and could see that things weren’t right,” recalls Andrew.
“It was as if she was running in treacle.”
Amy knew that for some inexplicable reason her energy levels had plummeted.
And so began weeks and months of watching her energy levels spiral downwards at an uncontrollable and alarming rate.
“I knew that I was extremely ill as it had reached the point where I was unable to do even the most basic things like scramble an egg,” says Amy.
“I was suffering from postural hypotension which meant that instead of my blood pressure rising every time I stood up, it would drop. So even getting out of bed was becoming increasingly difficult.”
Amy had begun experiencing a decrease in her energy levels several months earlier but, like most fit and healthy people, had attributed it to her busy life schedule as a nutritionist with ‘Eat Well – Feel Well’ and as the mother of three girls, the youngest of whom was just nine at the time.
“Initial tests suggested that I had chronic fatigue,” continues Amy, “but it knew, deep down, that this wasn’t the case.
“Whatever was happening to me was way beyond general fatigue.”
In March 2019, after her weight and blood pressure had plummeted to danger levels, Amy was eventually admitted to hospital.
And this was when she began suspecting the true cause of her illness.
“As soon as the blood tests began arriving, I started doing my own research and the more I discovered, the more convinced I became that I was suffering from Addison’s Disease.”
Addison’s disease results in the two small adrenal glands that sit above the kidneys being incapable of producing cortisol and aldosterone which are both essential hormones in relation to virtually every organ and tissue inside the body. These include the nervous system, the immune system, the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system.
Unless those hormonal imbalances are continuously addressed, Amy is at risk of death.
“Yes, I was scared,” she continues. “But I knew that I could either spend the rest of my life being frightened of what lay ahead or I could just try to carry on as before.
“Even though my life had now changed considerably, I knew I had to just focus on getting strong again.”
What makes Addison’s particularly difficult to treat is that fact that it’s difficult for individual patients to assess how much of those two specific hormones are needed in order to survive.
“If I get stressed or worried about something, then I need to take more, so it’s a constant monitoring situation. But after four years, I can genuinely say that my life is now just about back on track.
“Before my illness I would over-think everything, but now I realise how important it is to just live for the moment and prioritise. So I’ve started horse riding again which is something I haven’t done since I was a child, I go ballroom dancing, I go sea swimming and most importantly of all, I’m running again.”
On May 1, as Amy celebrates her 50th birthday, she embarked on her lengthiest challenge to date.
“Throughout the year I’m going to carry out 50 challenges to raise money for Addisons Self Help which is an advice and research charity that helps people understand and cope with their condition.
“But I’m also doing the challenges to show people that whatever life throws at you, it’s important to stay positive, carry on fighting and do all those things in your life that you may have always wanted to do.”
Amy’s very first challenge on May 1 was a ripstick lesson, ably instructed by her skateboarding ace daughter, Charlotte.
Other challenges will include swimming a mile, running a marathon, organising a ball, knitting a jumper, identifying birdsong, walking the entire Pembrokeshire coastal path and standing up on a surfboard.
“I know just how many people are out there suffering from autoimmune illnesses such as mine and naturally I know just how emotionally draining and frightening it can be.
“But four years after that horrible diagnosis, I’m finally realising that my life is good again.
“There is hope out there for all of us.”
Amy’s justgiving page can be visited on https://www.justgiving.com/page/amy-desborough-1682431656151