A model who thought she was having a bad dream when she woke up paralysed has told how she’s still in a wheelchair two-and-a-half years later – and doesn’t know if she’ll ever walk again.
Sonia Vera, 46, of London, led a healthy and active lifestyle until mid-2017, when she went for a nap one Saturday because she felt a bit ‘off’ and suddenly found herself unable to move.
Doctors struggled to pinpoint the cause and she was diagnosed with a rare neurological autoimmune disease with no known cure.
After spending months in hospital Sonia, who ran her own fashion brand Sonia Vera Swimwear and often used to model her designs which were a favourite of Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, is now wheelchair-bound and undergoing physiotherapy.
Sonia Vera, 46, of London, thought she was having a bad dream when she woke up paralysed two-and-a-half years ago. Pictured before
The model and swimwear designer led a healthy and active lifestyle until mid-2017, when she went for a nap one Saturday because she felt a bit ‘off’ and suddenly found herself unable to move. Pictured before
She has regained some feeling on the left side of her body and is able to move her arms and left leg, but she worries she is a ‘burden’ to her husband and her friends and family.
Sonia has set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money to have pioneering epidural stimulation surgery, the world’s most advanced procedure for spinal cord injuries.
She also hopes to buy an Alinker bike, a non-motorised walking-bike to help her build strength in her legs and do her physio independently, and fly to Kentucky to attend a rehabilitation centre.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Sonia said she’s determined to keep living her life to the full.
Designer Sonia (pictured right) walks the runway at the Sonia Vera Swimwear show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim at The Raleigh in Miami in July 2011, six years before her mystery illness set in
After three months in hospital, Sonia’s friend helped her do a modelling shoot from her bed and wheelchair to boost her spirits, and she shared the pictures on Instagram
Refusing to accept she will never walk again, Sonia is fundraising to have pioneering treatment
‘It’s been tough for everyone involved. I have missed out a lot on different things in my life,’ she said.
‘I want to keep traveling the world and share all the beautiful things I see, just as I did before. I have lived a beautiful life and there’s still more to see and do. “No cure” is not good enough for me.’
How does epidural stimulation work?
Epidural Stimulation involves the surgical implantation of a neurostimulator device.
The device is placed on the posterior structures of the lumbar spinal cord where it supplies electrical currents that connect nerve signals from the brain to spinal cord tissue below the injury level. This ‘bridging’ effect allows for the possibility of voluntary movement and the return to normal of various involuntary body functions.
The Epidural Stimulation device can be implanted in patients with complete or incomplete injuries and can be programmed and controlled by a handheld module no bigger than a smartphone.
While epidural stimulation for spinal cord injury is not a ‘cure’ for spinal cord injuries — because, at this time, no such cure exists — it is a step forward in the evolution of understanding of what a spinal cord injury and related treatments entail.
Currently this procedure is carried out in countries including the US and Switzerland. However, the cost of the surgery in these markets can exceed £76,970.
Sonia, who was born in Venezuela and raised in Los Angeles, told how she used to love snowboarding, cycling and playing tennis.
Her swimwear designs were regularly modelled on the catwalk, notably at the Merecedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim in 2012.
On the morning her life changed forever, she had woken up as normal but began experiencing a strange sensation in her arms.
‘I was in my flat and it was a typical Saturday morning. My husband and I were going to go play tennis,’ she recalled.
‘I got up first and about an hour later I started feeling pins and needles in my arms and then in my chest. I thought I was having my heart attack.
‘When I went to grab my phone to call for help my fingers didn’t work. I knew then something was wrong.’
Sonia went to hospital but claims she was sent home and told to take a nap. Five hours later she woke up paralysed.