When bad things happen to good people, it gives me pause for thought. It doesn’t take much imagination for me to put myself in that person’s shoes and breathe a selfish sigh of relief that I have escaped misfortune … yet again.
I hear tell that Amy May Shead is a good girl, full of life and mischief. I don’t know her personally – there are two degrees of separation between us – but I have no reason not to believe the best of her. Her zest for life leaks out of the photographs I’ve seen. Stories told by those close to her tell of a love of excitement and adventure and a genuine goodness, an innate kindness. Hers is a good-natured spirit, they say, always willing to share.
Amy is 28. She’s a beautiful young woman who until a couple of years ago had a dream job with ITV, and a life that stretched ahead of her full of promise. The only flaw in an otherwise almost perfect world was her severe allergy to nuts. But she coped. She travelled with her adrenaline-filled EpiPen wherever she went. And while such a severe allergy might cause some to founder, Amy was all for living life to the full.
Amy travelled to many countries in her life and in April 2014, she visited Budapest. She’d come prepared for her long weekend away. Eating out with her four friends one night in a city restaurant, Amy made sure that the staff knew she was allergic to nuts. She’d even brought an allergy information card translated into Hungarian that explained the seriousness of it all. Hers wasn’t some faddish would-rather-not-have thing; nuts could potentially kill her.
One bite later, Amy had an immediate, severe anaphylaxis reaction and went into cardiac arrest. Paramedics fought hard to save her at the scene. Later, in hospital, the doctors induced a coma but by then, lack of oxygen had already caused severe brain injury. It took three weeks on life support in the ICU before it was safe for her to fly back to the UK. Amy then spent almost two years in hospital and in rehabilitation. She’s still working hard, determined to go home to her parents.
So why, you might ask, am I writing about a young woman I’ve never met and am never likely to meet? Had it not happened here in Budapest and had I not known a friend of a friend of Amy’s, I might never have heard her story. Truth be told, though, I’m writing this because I’m ashamed of myself.
Not long ago, flying somewhere, we were asked not to open anything that might contain nuts because one passenger on the flight had a severe allergy. I distinctly remember raising my eyes to heaven and thinking it was all just a tad dramatic. Really? That allergic? I didn’t understand. I had no clue. Yes, I have friends who are intolerant to gluten, wheat, nuts, whatever. They might feel horrible for a couple of days if they mistakenly eat some. They might even take to their beds. But death? Brain damage? They’re myriad fathoms deeper than the superficial reactions I’ve observed.
Amy’s rehabilitation (in terms of both equipment for her home and her therapy) doesn’t come cheap. Her family has set up a foundation – The Amy May Trust – to fundraise for support. Spring is here, summer is on the way. It’s the season of outdoor activity. If you’re planning on running a marathon or doing a sponsored walk or jumping out of a plane and want to pay it forward, to do some good for someone, check out the website and have a think about supporting Amy. She got far more than she bargained for on her trip to Budapest. Perhaps we can give her something back. All donations gratefully accepted at http://amymaytrust.com/
First published in the Budapest Times 8 April 2016