Make-up artist, 26, suffered permanent nerve damage after Covid-19
15th March 2021

Covid-suffering make-up artist, 26, suffered permanent nerve damage in both eyes and has to learn to walk again after developing encephalitis

  • Samantha Helen, 26, had to learn how to walk again after contracting Covid-19 
  • Covid-19 caused her brain to swell up, a condition known as encephalitis 
  • Was left with a ‘mini’ blind spot in her left eye, which she likened to ‘a black orb’
  • Ms Helen, who lives in Manchester, is well known for creating cosmetic designs
  • But, her long Covid symptoms left her unable to paint anything until last month

A talented make-up artist told how Covid-19 left her with permanent nerve damage in both eyes.

Samantha Helen, 26, had to learn how to walk again as she adjusted to her ‘new eyesight’ after coronavirus caused her brain to swell up, a condition known as encephalitis. 

She was left with a ‘mini’ blind spot in her left eye – which she likened to ‘a black orb’ – and has to learn how to drive all over again.

Ms Helen – who lives in Manchester – is well known for creating intricate cosmetic designs and owns her own face and body art supplies company. She also tours the country to teach and give demonstrations and classes.

But, her long Covid symptoms left her unable to paint until last month – and she dubbed the damage to her eyes ‘a poopy pill to swallow’ as an artist.

In a hugely emotive Facebook video post, Ms Helen – who was fit and healthy before catching Covid – told how her life has ‘changed forever’ and said she hoped sharing her experiences with long Covid will help others.

Samantha Helen, 26, had to learn how to walk again as she adjusted to her ‘new eyesight’ after coronavirus caused her brain to swell up, a condition known as encephalitis

Ms Helen – who lives in Manchester – is well known for creating intricate cosmetic designs (pictured) and owns her own face and body art supplies company. She also tours the country to teach and give demonstrations and classes

She said: ‘For me, I am most devastated because it’s my eyes that are the problem.

‘I wish it was my lungs. I wish it was anything other than my eyes, but it is. 

‘I have my medication and I am dealing with it. 

‘But to be told at 26 you have got nerve damage and you are probably going to get cataract and things, it’s a poopy pill to swallow. 

‘I want people to understand. This is very real. I’m only 26 and my life has now changed. 

‘I have a business to run and I need to learn how to drive again. It can happen to anyone.’ 

Ms Helen was rushed to Manchester Royal Infirmary with Covid in September.

She said her food started to taste ‘weird and funky’ before getting head aches and severe bouts of vertigo.

She added: ‘I felt like I was sat in bed swimming in my own head

In a hugely emotive Facebook video post, Ms Helen – who was fit and healthy before catching Covid – told how her life has ‘changed forever’ and said she hoped sharing her experiences with long Covid will help others

What is encephalitis – and can Covid cause it? 

Encephalitis is an uncommon but serious condition in which the brain becomes inflamed. 

It can be life-threatening and requires urgent treatment in hospital.

The illness can be caused by viral infections or a problem with a person’s immune system.

Encephalitis can starts with flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature and headache.

It is not infectious but can take a long time to fully recover from.

Some patients are left with long-term problems including, memory loss, frequent seizures personality and behavioural changes problems with attention and persistent tiredness.

‘These range from forms of encephalitis [brain inflammation] through to psychosis and catatonia. It is quite a broad spectrum.’

Much of the damage seems to be wrought by patients’ immune systems overreacting to the virus and sparking harmful inflammatory reactions in brains and nerves, Dr Michael explains.

These may be seen as a neurological parallel to the lung damage wrought by immune cells in people with severe Covid-19, where a ‘cytokine storm’ sparks inflammation that destroys tissues.

But in rarer cases, the neurological problems seem to be caused by the coronavirus infecting the nervous system itself. The virus has been detected in the fluid in victims’ spines and brains.

‘My speech started to go a bit slurry and the right side of my body went really numb.’ 

She dialled 999 paramedics feared it was a stroke.

‘It was so drummed into my head that Covid, not wasn’t real, but wasn’t this. 

‘I thought it was all to do with the lungs.’ 

Ms Helen said her lungs were ‘perfectly fine’ in hospital – and was told by medics they were at ’99 per cent capacity’. 

But the problems centred around her eyesight and she was in hospital for almost two weeks.

Doctors ruled out a stroke, but she said she began to develop a stutter and had an MRI. 

Ms Helen added: ‘It came back with swelling on the brain.

‘As you can imagine it was quite a shock. I was on my own. It was quite scary.’ 

Ms Helen was diagnosed with encephalitis – inflammation of the brain often caused by infection.

‘It’s where a virus attacks your brain,’ she said. 

‘It’s like a concussion. They, the medics, hadn’t seen this case before. 

‘People are starting to see now that Covid is very neurological. 

‘At the time, in September, they just kept saying “we haven’t got a clue what is going on with you”.’ 

Ms Helen had a spinal tap and she said her protein levels ‘were off’. 

‘At that point, I couldn’t really see my eyesight was so bad,’ she revealed. 

‘The swelling affected that.’ 

She was kept in hospital on an anti-viral drip for seven days. 

Ms Helen was discharged – but swiftly readmitted.

‘My vertigo was to the point where I couldn’t even lie in bed without feeling like I was swimming around. 

‘I ended up back in hospital for another MRI.’ 

Ms Helen said the past eight months had been ‘hell’. 

‘I want people to understand – I’m 26 and this long Covid for me is so neurological,’ she added. 

‘It has actually damaged my eyes. I have permanent nerve damage in both of my eyes from the swelling that was caused from Covid. 

‘I have a little blind spot in my left eye – it’s like a black orb. 

‘I have floaters all the time in bright light. ‘I can’t sit next to a window in bright light. I get permanent headaches. 

‘This is the first month I have been able to tie my hair up. 

‘I couldn’t even have a bobble in my hair because the pressure and migraines were so bad.’ 

Ms Helen said people with long Covid were ‘not making it up’. 

‘Even though we look perfectly fine, something isn’t right,’ she said. 

‘It’s really hard to explain to people how you feel.’ 

Ms Helen was back in hospital over Christmas – and told after her eventual discharge how her mother helped her to walk again. 

She said: ‘For the first five months I couldn’t walk on my own. 

‘My mum had to take me round the garden to get my legs moving. 

‘Late January was the first time my mum let go of me. 

‘My whole independence has just been completely stripped. 

‘My mum is cutting my food up and tying my shoelaces.’ 

Ms Helen said she now has a specialist in London, adding: ‘People who have got long Covid, please don’t just think they are going to be fine the next day. 

‘It’s a pick and mix bag of what happens to you.’ 

She said she felt ‘no one understood’ and recorded the video to encourage people to talk and support each other. 

‘I miss who I used to be,’ she said. 

‘I wanted to open up about my experience in case anyone else feels lost or doesn’t truly understood what Covid can do to our bodies. 

‘There is a lot of stigma with young people and having Covid, as if we should feel embarrassed for getting it. 

‘So I want to open up the conversation for young people.’ 

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