An inspirational young woman who was left unable to speak or swallow by rare brain condition has finally been allowed home after living in hospital for 771 days.
Sophie Mallon, 24, suffered an "acute inflammatory episode" on part of her brain, which meant she had to be admitted to The Walton Centre on January 25, 2018.
She first noticed something was wrong when she started experiencing double vision, but put the scary symptom down to a torn contact lens.
But within a matter of hours, Sophie started experiencing even more terrifying symptoms as her speech began slurring and she couldn't keep any food down.
Her face went numb and she started getting pins and needles down the left side of her body.
Sophie, who worked as an administrator for Redrow, even had to be put into a coma when part of her brain swelled so suddenly she started struggling to breathe.
She captured the hearts of Merseyside when a video of her getting ready for her younger sister's 18th birthday party from inside the Horsley Intensive Care Unit of The Walton Centre went viral online.
Sophie also appeared on appeared on BBC series Hospital in an emotional scene where film crews caught the first words she spoke to her grandad Norman after losing her voice.
The last 26 months have been a long, hard battle for Sophie, who had to learn to speak and swallow again, undergoing an intensive course of rehabilitation at the Sid Watkins facility in the Walton Centre.
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But after 771 days, including two birthdays celebrated in hospital, Sophie was finally discharged on March 6 in a huge milestone.
Speaking to the ECHO, Sophie said: "I can’t believe how easily I’ve actually adjusted to being home and living alone after 26 months in hospital and a year of that being in ICU.
"It’s all finally starting to feel like a distant memory now and even though I’ve still got a bit of a way to go, the only way is up."
Sophie's unwavering positivity has been an important part of her journey - and her incredible progress is a testament to her astounding bravery and determination to get better.
She added: "It’s such a privilege to be able to do my own housework - as weird as that sounds! I enjoy it!
"And being able to cook my own breakfast in the morning. It’s the little things like that which make me appreciate life now because there was one a time two years ago when we thought I’d never be able to do little things like this again."
Sophie, who is originally from Garston, was discharged in March and moved into her own place in Belle Vale - but lockdown restrictions have meant she hasn't been able to see her loved ones in person yet.
She said: "I can’t wait to see my family and when that time comes - it’s exciting to look forward to now because I have my freedom back so no more working around hospital times to see them or waiting until the weekend to have home leave."
Despite not having been able to return to work since January 2018, Sophie said Redrow have been incredibly supportive.
The housing firm's subcontractors even surprised the 24-year-old and decorated her new home for her ready for a surprise reveal on the day she was discharged.
Sophie said: "My next door neighbours have been so helpful and helped me adjust to being out of hospital and moving out on my own a lot easier - I’ve never lived by myself before."
Speaking to the ECHO about how her condition began, she said: "On my last day in work on January 10, I was fine in the morning. Then a couple of hours before I finished work my vision had gone double but I just thought one of my eye contacts had ripped and that’s what was causing the problem.
"When I got home I took my contacts out straight away and my vision was still double. I put eye drops in and hoped to wake up back to normal the next morning.
"When I woke up, my vision was still double so I had to phone my boss and tell her I wouldn’t be able to make it to work until later on, so I rang up Specsavers and they had no appointments for that day
"Then I rang another opticians Prebbles and they were able to fit me in. I attended my appointment at 11am thinking that it would all be sorted and I’d be able to go to work afterwards."
However, when an optician took a look at Sophie's eyes, it soon became clear her problems were far more serious.
She was immediately referred to St Paul’s Eye Unit at the Royal Hospital where she had tests done and a scan booked in for the following week.
Before she could make her scan appointment, Sophie started experiencing even more terrifying symptoms - but she was still determined to go to her shift as an administrator for Redrow Homes.
By the time she got to her office, it became clear Sophie needed to go to A&E, where doctors thought she might have had a stroke.
After two weeks in hospital, an MRI scam showed a lesion on her brain stem and she was transferred to the Walton neurological centre, whose care she remained under for another 26 months.
Now that she has finally been discharged, Sophie wanted to thank some of the NHS staff who have cared for her over the past two years.
She said: "I was so lucky to have Dr Burness, my consultant, and John Jones, my discharge planner. They supported me and had my best interests in mind right from the start when things were the hardest.
"They fought for me every step of the way to get me to where I am now.
"Steph, my speech and language therapist, worked so hard to help me. Every single morning we’d have intense rehabilitation and I’m now eating and drinking again."
Speaking to the ECHO, Sophie's consultant Dr Chrissie Burness said: “Sophie has been an inspiration to everyone who has looked after her during this journey.
"She has faced her illness with such courage and grace. I am absolutely delighted that with the help of the critical care, Chavasse Ward and Complex Rehab Unit teams here at The Walton Centre, Sophie has finally been able to leave hospital to live on her own.”
After 771 days away from her normal life, Sophie has overcome every challenge life has thrown at her and is looking forward to making the most of her new found freedom.