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Student rower claims capsizing her boat in ‘dirty’ river water has left her with a stomach condition

A student rower revealed capsizing her boat in ‘dirty’ river water has left her with a stomach condition that saw her vomit up to 40 times a day and unable to eat a meal for almost two years.

Kira Roberts, 23, from Sheffield, South Yorks,  was rowing along the River Witham in Lincoln with two friends in December 2020 when her boat rolled over and she tumbled into the water.

Days later, when she became dizzy and started to vomit, she went to A&E where she spent a week in hospital while puzzled medics tried to work out the cause. 

In July this year the psychology student was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a long-term chronic condition where the stomach cannot empty in the normal way.

The condition means that every time Kira eats she vomits, causing her weight to plummet from 11.4st to 7st.

 The keen rower hasn’t eaten a meal since Christmas Day 2020, has been in and out of hospital eight times and for a total of seven months and says her life has been ‘put on hold’.

Kira Roberts, from Sheffield, South Yorks, revealed capsizing her boat in ‘dirty’ river water has left her with a stomach condition that saw her vomit up to 40 times a day and unable to eat a meal for almost two years

Kira before she was diagnosed with a stomach condition that left her vomiting up to 40 times a day

Kira before she was diagnosed with a stomach condition that left her vomiting up to 40 times a day

Kira said: ‘I was rowing for university. I went in a single rowing boat one morning and ended up capsizing and falling into the water. I was fine and got out, it happens quite regularly.

‘It was very cold, I got changed and went home. I spent the whole day in bed because I was cold.  

The 23-year-old says she wasn’t worried as she’d fallen out of the boat many times before, so she hopped back in and continued rowing before going home for a shower. 

She said: ‘A few days later I started to feel really unwell, I felt headachy and sick, so I called 111 and they got me an appointment with an out-of-hours doctors. 

She was rowing along the River Witham in Lincoln with two friends in December 2020 when her boat rolled over and she tumbled into the water

She was rowing along the River Witham in Lincoln with two friends in December 2020 when her boat rolled over and she tumbled into the water

Kira celebrated her 21st birthday at home fit and healthy before she was diagnosed with gastroparesis

Kira celebrated her 21st birthday at home fit and healthy before she was diagnosed with gastroparesis

The student rower was fit and healthy before she capsized her boat into dirty river water in 2020

Kira pictured in her university rowing clothes before her illness which left her vomiting 40 times a day

Kira pictured in her university rowing clothes before her illness which left her vomiting 40 times a day 

WHAT IS GASTROPARESIS?

Gastroparesis is a long-term (chronic) condition where the stomach cannot empty in the normal way. 

Food passes through the stomach slower than usual. 

It’s thought to be the result of a problem with the nerves and muscles that control how the stomach empties.

If these nerves are damaged, the muscles of your stomach may not work properly and the movement of food can slow down.

Symptoms of gastroparesis may include: feeling full very quickly when eating, feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, bloating, tummy pain or discomfort, heartburn. 

These symptoms can be mild or severe and tend to come and go.

Source: NHS 

 

‘They thought I’d pulled muscles in my arm and back from rowing.

‘I didn’t put two and two together because nobody else has had issues.

‘I got worse, the walls were moving, I was throwing up and feeling really poorly so I called 111 again and they told me to go to A&E.’

Blood tests eventually revealed that self-professed ‘unlucky’ Kira was suffering with glandular fever and viral hepatitis, which doctors believed she picked up from ‘contaminated’ water.

Kira said: ‘They did loads of tests and they didn’t know what was wrong. Bloods show that my liver and spleen was affected.

‘It turned out I had glandular fever from contaminated water and viral hepatitis.

‘I can’t remember much of the week because I was fast asleep, I didn’t know what was going on.

‘They put me on antibiotics and anti-sickness medication. I started getting better so I went home to my family, it was two days before Christmas.

‘I had a nice Christmas but I wasn’t feeling great. On Boxing Day, we had a pizza and I threw it all up and I felt quite ill.

‘They said if I declined in any way I needed to go to hospital. I went to A&E and got admitted and from 27 December until March I was in hospital.

‘My bloods got better but I was still vomiting every time I ate.

‘I went from 11st 4lbs to 45 kilos 7st.It took a massive toll on my body. I was in a lot of pain from vomiting.

Kira said her illness made her shed four stone because she wasn't able to keep food down and her weight plummeted to just 7st

Kira said her illness made her shed four stone because she wasn’t able to keep food down and her weight plummeted to just 7st

Blood tests eventually revealed that Kira was suffering with glandular fever and viral hepatitis, which doctors believed she picked up from 'contaminated' water

Blood tests eventually revealed that Kira was suffering with glandular fever and viral hepatitis, which doctors believed she picked up from ‘contaminated’ water

‘I had a feeding tube in my stomach but I threw the food up because my stomach doesn’t work.

‘I could be sick up to 40 times a day, which is just draining, it was bile and acid. It was painful, it burned my throat.

‘I’d still try to eat so my body didn’t completely stop working but I’d throw it up and still be throwing up two hours later.

‘It didn’t surprise me when the doctor said it was caused by the water because I’m unlucky.

‘My mum is the same, weird things that don’t happen to most people happen to us but I never thought this would be my life two years later.’

Doctors fitted Kira with a nasal tube that bypassed her stomach and went straight to her intestine but that didn’t work leaving her at risk of ‘starving to death’.

Kira was in hospital from December 2020 to March and she had to celebrate her birthday in hospital

Kira was in hospital from December 2020 to March and she had to celebrate her birthday in hospital 

As a last resort they had to feed Kira by injecting nutrients directly into her veins to keep her alive.

Kira, who took up rowing just a year before she became sick, trained in the river six days a week.

She was forced to take a year out of university so she could be cared for by mum Donna Roberts, 46, dad Steve Roberts, 52, and 23-year-old partner Cam Macintosh.

Kira said: ‘My life has been on hold. I can’t go back to Lincoln because I need all the support I can get.

‘It was really upsetting to miss the last year of university, all my friends got to graduate together, it was hard missing out.

‘It was hard to see everyone moving forward and my life sort of stuck. I absolutely loved rowing, I made so many friends.

‘I used to play football but I broke my knee. I wanted to do something but I can’t twist my knee [so took up rowing], I’m just unlucky.

She said her life has been on hold as she can't go back to Lincoln because she needs all the support she can get

She said her life has been on hold as she can’t go back to Lincoln because she needs all the support she can get

It was recommended she try total parenteral nutrition (TPN), a method of feeding that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract so Kira is fed through injections in the veins

It was recommended she try total parenteral nutrition (TPN), a method of feeding that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract so Kira is fed through injections in the veins

‘Rowing is only bending your knees and I’d never tried it before so I got into it and really enjoyed it.

‘It’s very intense but I made a good group of friends, I really miss it.

‘It was nice to be with a group of people who have things in common. I’m a team player so I love being with other people.’

After months of trying to find a solution, Kira decided to find a private specialist who diagnosed her with gastroparesis in July 2021.

It was recommended she try total parenteral nutrition (TPN), a method of feeding that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract so Kira is fed through injections in the veins.

Kira says thanks to this method of feeding, she started to improve physically and was even able to start work at a pub this summer.

Kira said: ‘The decision to inject nutrients into my veins wasn’t taken lightly. It was a last resort because of complications, but it was that or starve to death.

‘A nurse had to train me, you have to be really sterile because it goes straight to your heart.

‘I was improving, I couldn’t eat and I was vomiting and in pain but I had more energy and I felt human again.

‘I could go out and enjoy doing stuff. It was lovely having the energy I hadn’t had for a whole year. I was doing really well.’

Kira was taken back into hospital on October 2nd due to an infection in her tube, which had to be taken out while she recovers meaning she’s back on a nasal tube connected to her intestine.

Kira said: ‘I’m without proper nutrition for a while because they have to wait until the infection is gone until they put the line back in.

‘I’m not taking to it, I’m in pain, I’m throwing up and I’m bloated.

Kira was taken back into hospital on October 2nd due to an infection in her tube, which had to be taken out while she recovers meaning she's back on a nasal tube connected to her intestine

Kira was taken back into hospital on October 2nd due to an infection in her tube, which had to be taken out while she recovers meaning she’s back on a nasal tube connected to her intestine

Kira was taken back into hospital on October 2nd due to an infection in her tube, which had to be taken out while she recovers meaning she's back on a nasal tube connected to her intestine

Kira was taken back into hospital on October 2nd due to an infection in her tube, which had to be taken out while she recovers meaning she’s back on a nasal tube connected to her intestine

She was forced to take a year out of university so she could be cared for by mum Donna Roberts, 46, (right) dad Steve Roberts, 52 (left)

She was forced to take a year out of university so she could be cared for by mum Donna Roberts, 46, (right) dad Steve Roberts, 52 (left)

‘I’m on pain relief and anti-sickness. The nurses are amazing, credit to them.

‘I’m always on the same ward so they’ve seen me through my journey and make things a lot easier.

‘It’s hard being in hospital, it has a toll on your mental health. You see things other people don’t see, you see people dying.’

Now Kira and her family are fundraising for a gastric pacemaker, a device designed to stimulate the stomach placed into a small pocket made under the skin of the abdomen.

They’ve currently reached more than £18,000 of their £45,000 target.

Kira said: ‘The next option is getting a gastric pacemaker. It’s a machine that is put in the stomach and stimulates muscles so food can be pushed through but you need to be able to tolerate tube feeding.

Now Kira and her family are fundraising for a gastric pacemaker, a device designed to stimulate the stomach placed into a small pocket made under the skin of the abdomen

Now Kira and her family are fundraising for a gastric pacemaker, a device designed to stimulate the stomach placed into a small pocket made under the skin of the abdomen

Kira hopes the gastric pacemaker will help her have some normality and go out for a meal and eat with my family

Kira hopes the gastric pacemaker will help her have some normality and go out for a meal and eat with my family

Kira just wants to live a normal life again and be able to go out for a meal with friends and family

Kira just wants to live a normal life again and be able to go out for a meal with friends and family 

‘The gastric pacemaker works for some people but not for others. It’s not on the NHS because there isn’t enough evidence to show that it helps but it’s the only option we have.

‘I have seen stories of people who have had it and it’s changed their lives and they’ve been able to eat.

‘I know I won’t be able to eat massive meals or a big fat Chinese but if I could eat some pasta or salad or have some normality and go out for a meal and eat with my family.

‘That’s my goal but everything is in the dark so it’s hard to see the goal when it’s so far away.

‘I cry about how generous people have been, it’s so amazing how many people actually care. I’m so thankful for it.’

You can donate to Kira’s page here. The Environment Agency has been contacted for comment.

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