A netball scholar’s dreams were crushed after she was diagnosed with three conditions within a year that left her unable to walk.
Letchen du Plessis, 20, from Pretoria, South Africa, first became unwell when her hip ‘popped’ while playing the sport in May last year.
After enduring surgery and 10 months of physiotherapy, Miss du Plessis, who studied business science, was still struggling to walk.
An MRI scan later revealed a lack of blood supply to her hip was causing the bone to die in a condition known as avascular necrosis (AVN).
After having her last of three surgeries in June to increase her hip’s blood supply, she was later diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome – dubbed ‘suicide disease’.
And just months later, the hopeful athlete was told she had the disorder dystonia when she became unable to control her foot and it contracted into a claw.
Miss du Plessis, who had hoped to move to the UK to pursue her dream of being a professional athlete, now relies on strong doses of painkillers to get through the day and has no idea what her future holds.
‘In May 2017 I was running towards the goalpost and my teammate threw the ball behind me,’ Miss du Plessis said.
‘My left leg was already planted so when I caught the ball, I felt my leg go numb and my hip popped.
‘I tried to shake it off and tried to continue playing but I knew something was wrong.
‘I completely tore the labrum and a couple of hip flexors in my left hip, which had to be repaired by surgery.’
Miss du Plessis then underwent three surgeries to boost the blood supply to her hip.
‘The doctor didn’t know why mine occurred, most of the time doctors don’t know why it happens,’ she said.
‘I had to have emergency surgery on my hip in June 2018 – I’m 20 years old and had three hip surgeries.
‘The only way to cure AVN is with a hip replacement but I didn’t want one so young.’
While in recovery, she spent two months bedbound before slowing being able to walk with crutches.
Miss du Plessis noticed, however, her left leg was ice cold and purple, with her being unable to move her toes.
‘Two months after surgery I noticed my toes didn’t work,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t move them [and]the more weight I put on my leg, the pain got worse.
‘Back to the doctor again and after every test imaginable, I got another diagnosis. This time, CRPS.
‘The pain is equivalent to having had an ice bath and then immediately getting into a hot shower. I have this pain all day and night.’
While on medication to cope with the pain, Miss du Plessis’ foot started to lose its function until it resembled a claw.
‘That’s its permanent position now,’ she said.
‘My foot curls into a ball and it feels as though my toes are going to break. They make repeated movements up and down.
‘The AVN makes the other two conditions worse because I will need a hip replacement but having surgery might cause the CRPS to spread over the rest of my body.’
Medics are also unable to give a frustrated Miss du Plessis an explanation as to why this all happened.
‘No doctor can explain why it happened. That is the most difficult thing to wrap my head around, the not knowing part. Will it spread? Only time will tell,’ she said.
As well as living with constant pain, Miss du Plessis has also been forced to give up the sport she loves.
‘I loved playing netball because I could challenge myself every day,’ she said.
‘My life revolved around netball and I wanted to finish my degree and move to the UK to play professionally for a club.’
Miss du Plessis life now consists of regular doctors and physio visits.
She also takes Parkinson’s medication and strong painkillers.
‘If all that doesn’t work, the next step will be Botox in the muscles which are contracting,’ Miss du Plessis said.
Although the ordeal has been difficult for her to accept, Miss du Plessis is determined to stay positive.
‘The easiest thing to be in life is negative and make life as difficult as possible,’ she said.
‘Always be grateful for what you have, especially your health, and celebrate every accomplishment.
‘When you can’t control what is happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what is happening.
‘There are a lot of “what ifs?”. Like what if I chose a different sport? What if I just came off the court when my coach told me to?
‘You can’t live life being stuck on these questions.’