A woman who was left paralysed and on life support after being bitten by a white-tailed spider hiding in her Ugg boot has defied the odds by learning to walk again.
Naomi Lambert, then-27, was putting on her Uggs in the bedroom of her parents’ home in Adelaide, South Australia, when she was bitten by the venomous spider.
The bite started a chain of events that would see the charity founder develop cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, and rapidly lose function of her body leaving her completely paralysed – but conscious – on life support.
After weeks in ICU, doctors diagnosed her with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own nerves.
Ms Lambert told Daily Mail Australia of how she spent nine months in rehab in 2009 learning to walk, hold a pen and live independently again.
Naomi Lambert was putting on UGG boots in her bedroom when she was bitten by a white-tailed spider, an incident which triggered a chain of events that left her paralysed and confined to a wheelchair for nine months (pictured with her aunt during recovery in 2009)
Bites from white-tail spiders (pictured) can be moderately painful and cause temporary skin irritation and inflammation, but usually resolve after a few weeks
‘It wasn’t really that painful – I wasn’t screaming my head off or anything, it just felt a like a bee sting,’ she said.
Bites from a white-tailed spider can be moderately painful and cause temporary itching and inflammation, but usually resolve after a few weeks.
But after being bitten, Ms Lambert developed a bacterial infection called cellulitis in her foot and she was admitted to hospital for treatment.
An abscess quickly developed and she underwent surgery to remove the growth.
It was during recovery that things took a more sinister turn.
‘I started to get very weak, but the doctors assumed it was just muscle deterioration because I’d been in hospital for a few weeks,’ she said.
‘Then one day I stood up and literally dropped backwards. Things spiralled pretty quickly from there.
‘I tried to pick up a band aid it felt like I was lifting kilos.’
What is cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a common and sometimes painful bacterial skin infection.
It first appears as a red, swollen area that feels hot and tender to the touch and redness can spread quickly.
It most commonly affects the skin of the lower legs, although infection can occur anywhere on the body or face.
If cellulitis remains untreated, it can become life-threatening.
After weeks of tests, Ms Lambert was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. She spent nine months in rehab learning to walk again (seen with her mother during recovery)
Unable to support herself, Ms Lambert found it increasingly difficult to breathe and she developed a chesty cough.
‘My mum was lying with me reading one evening, and my breathing got so bad there was about 40 seconds between each breath,’ she said.
Her mother alerted staff and she was placed on life support within minutes.
‘I was conscious but couldn’t communicate. I was fully paralysed, it was like being trapped inside my own body,’ she said.
‘I was having panic attacks, but couldn’t tell anyone or do anything about it.’
After weeks on a ventilator, Ms Lambert was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare and severe immune deficiency triggered by the cellulitis infection from the spider bite.
What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disorder which involves the body’s immune system attacking the nerves.
The first symptoms are weakness and tingling in the fingers and toes. These sensations spread quickly, eventually paralysing the whole body.
Most people with Guillain-Barré syndrome have experienced a severe viral or bacterial illness beforehand, usually one to three weeks earlier.
GBS affects between two and eight people in every 100,000.
It is most common between the ages of 30 and 50.
Source: Better Health Victoria
Confined to a wheelchair, Ms Lambert spent nine months in a physical rehabilitation facility learning to walk, hold a pen and live independently again.
She received weekly injections to treat her condition for seven years, finally finishing in 2015.
‘I was so young when it happened, so I regained most of the body’s usual function really well,’ she said.
‘I’m reasonably well now and I don’t need any further treatment, but my immune system isn’t the best and I tend to catch anything that’s going around.
Ms Lambert (pictured in 2019) regained almost full function of her body and went on to found The Cool To Be Kind Project, a global charity which encourages random acts of kindness
‘I can’t jump and the reflexes in my legs are a bit sluggish, but I can live with these things.’
Ms Lambert is the founder of The Cool To Be Kind Project, a global charity which encourages random acts of kindness and positivity.
The movement has received recognition from The Huffington Post creator Arianna Huffington, who recently tweeted about Ms Lambert’s story.
Everything you need to know about white-tailed spiders
White-tailed spiders are dark, reddish grey in colour with a cylindrical, cigar-shaped body.
Their defining feature is a white spot at their tip.
White-tailed spiders are found across southern Australia, in southeast Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and southern Western Australia.
They adapt to both bush and urban environments, and usually hide under tree bark and rocks and within tight spaces inside homes – particularly between pieces of fabric.
A 2003 study found 95 percent of white-tailed spider bites occurred indoors.
Two-thirds of bite victims found the spiders nestled in bedclothes, towels and clothing.
White-tailed spider bites result in symptoms similar to those of a bee sting: an immediate burning sensation in the local area, followed by mild swelling and an itchy red mark.
Source: Australian Geographic