June 27, 2022 8.00 pm This story is over 24 months old

Lincolnshire gran eats for first time in two years after innovative treatment

The NHS had said there was nothing more they could do

A Lincolnshire grandmother who survived a stroke has been able to eat for the first time in two years thanks to a course of innovative treatment, after being told by the NHS there was nothing more they could do for her.

Diana Tavner, 81, from Sutton Bridge was admitted to hospital after her stroke in May 2019, which affected her speech. She was diagnosed with dysphagia and left unable to swallow.

The mother of four, and grandmother of 11, had to be fed through a PEG feeding tube directly into her stomach and was only allowed small sips of thickened water due to the risk of choking.

After a series of x-rays showed no improvement, she was told there was nothing else the NHS could do for her and she fell into a depression at the thought of never being able to savour a meal again.

Diana said: “I knew I couldn’t swallow straight away. One of the worst things at that time was when they went round asking the other patients what they would like to eat and they just bypassed me because they knew I couldn’t eat.

“I had a PEG fitted and they let me go home with all the equipment to feed myself through the tube. But it used to take five and a half hours a day. I was so upset that they felt there was nothing else they could do.”

Diana’s daughter spotted an article about VitalStim, a procedure which uses electrical stimulation to strengthen the muscles, which has proved successful with other stroke survivors. However, the treatment is not available on the NHS and the VitalStim treatment sessions start from £150.

Dysphagia consultant Sumathi Sinnappan (left) with Diana Tavner (centre) and her husband Colin (right).

She booked a consultation and within weeks of completing a four-week course of treatment in July last year Diana was back on solid food – and even able to enjoy a birthday meal out at an Italian restaurant with her husband Colin.

She said: “It really has given me a new lease of life, I can’t recommend it enough. I want other stroke survivors to know that it’s out there, to give them hope.

“I really felt as though the NHS had given up on me. I had four X-rays and after the fourth they said there were no signs of improvement. They just said, ‘we won’t send for you anymore, let us know if you notice any improvement’.

“How was I supposed to know if it was improving if I couldn’t eat anything? I was so depressed when we went home that day, I really believed I would never eat normally again.”

Diana Tavner with her husband Colin, who said “It has been such a joy to see her cooking again and enjoying food.”

When Diana had her treatment, she stayed in Stafford near to the VitalStim clinic run by dysphagia consultant and speech and language therapist Sumathi Sinnappan. She had a week’s worth of treatments at a time and returned home in between.

She noticed an improvement by just the second day, which was her third treatment, and said “it gave me hope that I might get back to some normality”.

Diana said: “After the last treatment, Sumathi asked me what I would like to eat and I just couldn’t think of anything, I was so overwhelmed and hadn’t eaten anything properly for so long.

“Then on the way home I kept thinking about Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup, so we stopped to buy a can and I ate a quarter of it when I got home. It was so delicious, I really enjoyed it. It was so nice and from there we just started to get back to normal.”

Ms Sinnappan added: “People need to know that there is treatment out there. This lady believed she would never eat normally again, but now here she is going for meals out with her family. This treatment can change lives and my patients are so grateful.”