I had a one-night stand, now I’m infertile
Kelly-Marie Stewart has a recurring dream. In it, she's sitting at her kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee, when the phone rings. She gets up and walks over to answer it.
Nothing remarkable, you might think. Except for Hollyoaks actress Kelly-Marie it is, because the 24 year old has been paralysed from the waist down for three years.
The pretty blonde lost the use of her legs overnight after contracting a virus. While most people would struggle to cope, Kelly-Marie is incredibly upbeat.
"My dreams might not be real, but I take them as a sign that one day I will walk again," she says.
Before Kelly-Marie, from Liverpool, became paralysed, she worked as an air stewardess. She was driving to work one day when she realised she couldn't feel her feet properly. When she pressed on the brake, she couldn't tell how hard she was pushing down. Later that day, she started to experience a weird tingling sensation in her feet. After a sleepless night, she went straight to her doctor, who sent her to hospital, where she was admitted for blood tests.
"The doctors said I had some kind of virus. I wasn't worried, just bored and frustrated. It was the weekend and I was supposed to be out enjoying myself with my friends," Kelly-Marie says.
No one could pinpoint what was wrong, so she was kept in for observation. Then, on the third night, she collapsed on her way back from the toilet. No matter how hard she tried, her legs refused to work. She hasn't walked since.
"I didn't feel scared, it was just really weird. I tried and tried to get my legs to move, but they wouldn't," she remembers. "I called for help and two nurses carried me back to my bed. Even then, I wasn't worried. I just presumed it was a symptom of the virus, and that when I got better, it would go away." But at midnight, as she lay in bed in the dark, she overheard doctors talking in hushed voices, and her parents were summoned.
"That's when I knew it was serious and all these thoughts began going through my head," she says.
When her parents arrived, they were ushered into a side room. After 20 minutes, they came to her bedside. "They had smiles fixed on to their faces - but they didn't reach their eyes. I was sure my mum was close to tears," she says. "We all pretended everything was normal. I let them chat about anything other than what was wrong with me."
And something was very wrong. In fact Kelly-Marie had contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome, but neither her parents nor her doctors wanted to break that news to her.
"I'm so grateful to my parents that they managed to hold it together the night they found out, that they didn't fall apart on me," she says. "They'd just been told their daughter could end up on a ventilator if things got any worse. But while they wept buckets in private, they kept it together in front of me. And that helped me to focus on getting better."
The following morning, Kelly-Marie was moved to a neurological centre close to her home. She endured a series of gruelling tests. She wasn't allowed to leave her room, and had to breathe into a special machine that measured her lung capacity every 15 minutes to check they weren't in danger of collapsing. If they did, it would mean the paralysis was spreading to her chest.
While she had many dark days, she was determined to stay positive. "Actually, I felt lucky in many ways," she says. "All that time I was in hospital, my mates did their utmost to make sure I never felt alone.
"I felt very loved and cared for, and I learnt that I share my life with some very special people. There were young people in there with no movement or feeling from the neck down. Compared to their problems, mine seemed minor."
Seven months after she'd walked out of her parents' home to see her doctor, Kelly-Marie finally returned, only this time in a wheelchair. But even this didn't break her spirit. In fact, she says she felt a tremendous sense of relief at coming home.
"I'd just spent the whole summer stuck in hospital, where I wasn't allowed to leave my room for so much as a breath of fresh air. The house was covered in 'welcome home' banners and family and friends were waiting to take me for a meal. It was one of the happiest days of my life," she smiles.
Kelly-Marie's parents converted a downstairs living room into a bedroom, complete with wet room, which helped her retain her strong sense of independence. "Even when I was really ill, I always insisted on getting myself in and out of bed. I craved independence," she insists.
Perhaps it was Kelly-Marie's determination to live life regardless of her paralysis, that helped her find love. Just six months after she left hospital, she met Ian Fox. "I was on my way to town with friends and we pulled up at a set of traffic lights and Ian was next to us in his car," she says.
There was an instant attraction - the couple swapped numbers there and then and met up that night. They've been together every since. "My paralysis was never an issue for Ian," she says with a smile.
She and Ian, 24, a motorways traffic manager, are now expecting a baby. "We did the pregnancy test and when it came up positive, we both cried!" she says. "I've always dreamed of becoming a mum and I know Ian will be an amazing dad."
Kelly-Marie will need to be closely monitored, but doctors say she should have a healthy pregnancy before her baby - due next March - is born. The couple have just moved into a new house together and are busy preparing the nursery.
Not content with finding love and getting pregnant, Kelly-Marie has also landed a role in cult soap Hollyoaks. She auditioned for the part of wheelchair-bound Hayley Ramsay on the Channel 4 show - and got the part.
And Kelly-Marie is determined that her dreams of walking will come true. She's been having intensive physio to keep her upper body strong enough to support herself on crutches.
"Some people with this condition don't ever get better, but I'm determined I will," she says defiantly. "And my baby will be the most precious gift - I'm so lucky."