Wednesday, 18 April 2012


My skin is still tingling from the contrasting emotions that surged through me when reading this story.

It’s about a 20-year-old girl called Rebecca Ling, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome.

She’s been chosen as one of the 8,000 people who will carry the Olympic torch as it travels around the country in the lead-up to London 2012.

This is a brilliant thing.

But the story wasn’t an easy read. As my eyes scanned it, I pulled up short, the adrenalin rushing to my head, not realising what it was I was feeling. And then I recognised it: fear.

Rebecca was left paralysed six years ago, after an operation to correct her scoliosis went wrong. My daughter had the same operation when she was 10. And the doctors told us that paralysis was a risk, because they were working so close to the spinal cord. We were lucky that everything went smoothly, but just reading about this outcome transports me back to the hospital waiting room and the moment her consultant reappeared after an eight hour wait. There was that split second - a miniscule amount of time - before he smiled and told us she was OK. 

Rachel’s parents didn’t get that message. 

“Thank God that didn’t happen to my girl; thank God that didn’t happen to us...” I thought. And then the blood rushed back into my face, as my fear turned to shame. What was I thinking? As I leapt to conclusions about the ‘quality’ of Rebecca’s life, was I doing what I hate other people doing? Pitying and condescending a person who I had never met and had no right to have an opinion on or even begin to understand how they live and enjoy their life?

The most telling part of the article for me was the following three lines:

The Chelmsford College student said: “I’m very excited to be taking part.
“When I found out I went straight on Facebook and told all my friends.
“I think it’s going to be fun.”

And that’s when the tears came. And a big smile. Rebecca was going to have an amazing experience, and her first thought was to update her status.

That wonderful everyday banality is the flame that burns brightest for me. I’ll cheer you all the way, Rebecca.

Video is Laura Viers - July Flame


  1. My niece is having surgery for scoliosis next week. Her elder sister had the op a few years back, and it was successful - but this is a timely reminder of the risks involved.

  2. Sorry, Malc. This post wasn't particularly well-timed for you, was it? Although I'm sure you were already terrifyingly aware of what could go wrong. All you can do is wait, and try and reassure yourself that the vast majority of operations go without a hitch.
    I hope everything goes well for her. The op vastly improved my daughter's life. Technically, it saved her life, because the scoliosis would have ended up affecting her lungs and breathing. It allowed her to ditch her constricting body brace. And meant we could give her proper hugs. Which may sound like a small thing - but is isn't.

  3. We've already caught up offline about this, but just in case anyone else was wondering...she had the op, having been talked back into it from a late wobble. It went well, she's started to get her movement back and managed to sit upright briefly. Another week in the hospital before we can see her; I live much closer to the hospital than my sister but it's immediate family only for now.

    In any case, the post was very well-timed from my point of view. In the years since her sister was done, and I think probably because it was so successful, memories of the risks involved had faded. So as I said, a timely reminder.