From ‘The Sun’, 3 June 2008; story by Dulcie Pearce
BRAVE Vikki George has been bed-bound with ME for the past six years. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, the pretty 23-year-old has devoted her life to writing to other sick youngsters to offer them hope and support.
And while she has never had a boyfriend or enjoyed an alcoholic drink or a dance in a nightclub, it is a small sacrifice when you consider the smiles she has brought to the faces of dozens of unwell or terminally ill children.
Vikki set up charity Post Pals in 2003.
So far it has brought joy to the lives of more than 140 teenagers and younger children by ensuring each gets a daily letter or parcel.
She says: “These children are my inspiration. When I hear what they are going through it makes me realise I’m not the only one who suffers and many of these kids are going through far worse.
“How can I feel sorry for myself when I am writing to a child who is dying?
“They are so brave and fearless, it’s a privilege to be in touch with them.”
Vikki, from Little Bookham, Surrey, was struck down by glandular fever at the age of 11 and developed flu-like aches, migraines and severe fatigue. She then found herself unable to shake off these troubles.
Dragging herself to school, her condition slowly worsened.
By the age of 16 she felt dizzy constantly and was ultra-sensitive to light and sound. She was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalopathy, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
She says: “It was so hard not knowing for so long what was wrong, so when I was diagnosed it was almost a relief. Some days I wouldn’t be able to get off the sofa because I was so exhausted.
“I wanted to be at school with my friends but when I couldn’t lift my head in the morning, it became impossible.”
Finally, after she had taken her GCSEs, Vikki became bed-bound.
She says: “I had plans to do A-levels and study medicine at university but simply sitting on a stool in the science lab at school became impossible. I couldn’t hold myself up – the pain was unbearable.”
During the first few months in bed, Vikki’s ME advanced rapidly and at times she could not speak or open her eyes.
She was so sensitive to light her bedroom windows had to be blacked out – and they still are. Her parents had to spoon-feed her baby food and carry her to the bathroom.
Vikki says: “It was so frustrating. I’d lost all use of my legs and saw only the four walls of my room. I lost contact with my friends and spoke only to my parents. I was a prisoner in my own body – my life had stopped.
“I went on the internet to find out about the illness and discovered an ME support group for other sufferers.
“The friends I made online became my inspiration for Post Pals – they sent me cards and letters and made me feel like a real person again. It also made me realise there were people who cared about me, even though they hadn’t met me.
“This made a huge difference and I wanted to make other people feel as good as I did.”
From her bed, Vikki started writing to ill children around the UK, finding them through charities and networking groups. Word soon spread and Post Pals grew.
Vikki says: “To start with I was too weak to hold a pen, so I had to dictate letters to my parents. But as my strength grew, so did the amount of children I wrote to.
“Soon my bedroom turned into a post room, and now, five years on, packaging, presents and paper fill every corner, spilling out into the landing and garage.”
Although Vikki does not meet any of her Post Pals, she feels writing to them has helped her. She says: “These children are a joy to know. Being in contact with them would inspire anyone.
“Some are terminally ill, and it’s hard for me to understand that one day their letters back to us will stop. Even though I’m ill, I know that one day I’ll be better.
“Some of these children don’t have that hope but are fearless and full of excitement for their futures.”
Since Post Pals began, seven of the children Vikki has written to have died.Nikita passed away on Christmas Eve 2005. The 11-year-old had synovial sarcoma, a rare type of cancer in the joints, and spent her final days confined to a sofa, wrapped in a quilt Vikki had sent her.
Vikki says: “No matter how exhausted she was, she always found the energy to ask if the postman had been.
“She loved that quilt so much that her parents buried her in it. Knowing that I made her feel a bit better each day – that’s a wonderful thing.”
And five-year-old Samantha sadly died last month of neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer.
Other stories have happier endings. One Post Pal, 14-year-old James had leukaemia and is now back at school. Doctors give him a good prognosis.
Vikki says: “His dad says that his recovery is due in part to Post Pals – that our support helped him fight his illness.”
Vikki is also starting to pick up. She recently visited a shop for the first time in years.
She says: “I am determined I will live a normal life one day.
I know that I can achieve this if I’m patient – and my wish is that many of my Post Pals can do the same.”
- To make a donation to Post Pals or volunteer to write to a child, visit postpals.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Post Pals, PO Box 278, Leatherhead, Surrey KT23 4WN.