Showjumper Evie Toombes has taken her first win since spending more than a month in hospital receiving life-saving treatment for a chronic gastric condition.
The 18-year-old, who competes her mare Daisy in both para and able-bodied classes, landed first and second place during the first two days of jumping at Arena UK this week, just four weeks after being discharged.
It was the Skegness rider’s second show back, and first “stay away” show since being fitted with a Hickman line, which enables her to receive total parenteral nutrition (TPN) directly into a vein in her chest.
Evie, an award-winning ambassador for hidden illnesses, was born with a form of spina bifida which caused bladder and bowel problems and later developed gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach cannot empty in a normal way, making it difficult for her to receive adequate nutrition.
In May, Evie’s mother Caroline appealed to the government not to forget patients in need, after stoma surgery her daughter had scheduled for 31 March had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Evie’s BMI plummeted to just 12.7, then leaving her too weak for surgery, and she had to be admitted to hospital, where she was unable to leave the ward or receive visitors for several weeks.
“In the hospital I wasn’t allowed away from my bed and I couldn’t go for a walk [because of the risk of Covid] — my legs turned blue,” Evie said.
“I sat and cried at the start. I thought ‘I’ll end up going home with even worse legs [she already suffers weakness because of the spina bifida] and a Hickman line, and normal life is not going to be possible’. I had to put those thoughts out of my mind and focus on how I could slowly rebuild.”
The Hickman line has enabled Evie to slowly regain some weight but she has to be hooked up to the equipment for 16 hours a day. It also comes with risks as it is connected directly into a vein to the heart, which means any contamination could cause sepsis. It has taken several weeks of training for her to be able to administer the PN to herself at home.
“I couldn’t ride the first few weeks, I could barely move as it was so sore and bleeding quite a lot, which worried me, although the nurses did reassure me that this was so I could live my life,” Evie said.
“I’ve had to adapt around it — now when I dismount , instead of getting off the normal way, I swing my right leg over the neck and jump down forwards, so I don’t risk catching my chest on saddle. I’m also padding it out as and when I need to and keeping it really clean with plenty of alcohol wipes.”
To travel to Arena UK for the week, she had to bring boxes of medical supplies and was only able to make the show when her father agreed to bring the recent delivery to the showground, as it arrived two days late. While away from home, she will administer her PN in the treatment room in the specially adapted “mobile medical unit” horsebox she raised funds for last year.
“It’s a Godsend,” said Evie, who spends eight hours every day undergoing medical treatments, including physio to enable her to walk. “We keep it spotless continuously and no one is allowed in other than me and mum. It takes two hours just to set up the PN at night — it’s a lot of time and effort but it means it’s right.”
Evie went to her first competition since returning to the saddle at Willow Banks last weekend, where Evie’s lack of leg strength caused Daisy to have an uncharacteristic stop. The pair have returned on brilliant form at Arena UK however.
“I booked to go to Arena UK and after last week I thought I wouldn’t be ready — but when are you ever ready,” Evie said. “I love coming to shows just to spend time with Daisy, as she is kept in full livery half-an-hour away from our house, so if I get to jump then it’s a bonus.
“Spending so much time in hospital, I don’t get to see many other people and there’s a lot more to showjumping than just jumping the fences, I come for the social side as well,” she added.
Evie’s doctors have said she should now be well enough to undergo illeostomy (stoma) surgery, so she is waiting for the call, but is continuing to plan competition dates for a few weeks ahead.
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Evie Toombes, who was born with a form of spina bifida, makes "every effort" to compete for her Pony Club
“I don’t want to overdo it, my main plan is to do whatever is a bit of fun for me and Daisy,” Evie said.
“I feel elated to have finally got back with her, it’s a really lovely reward for all of the hard work with the TPN. It gives me something to work towards, as it’s really easy to just become a patient when you have eight hours of medical treatments a day.
“There’s freedom with Daisy and it’s so drastically different — it gives me a different identity.”
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