GRANDMOTHER Sheila Pirie never thought she would walk again after a spinal abscess damaged her nerves and left her with no feeling below the waist.

When the 73-year-old arrived at Balhousie care home in Coupar Angus, Perthshire, in August last year she was in a wheelchair and needed a full-body hoist to lift her in and out of bed.

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But after eight months of gruelling physiotherapy the former bank clerk is back on her feet and taking part in a virtual walk from Scotland to Australia, measured on a pedometer.

Mrs Pirie, from Alyth, said: "It was very hard work but I must admit now it was worth it."

Her ordeal began when she was admitted to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee shortly before Christmas in 2016 suffering pains which turned out to be caused by a giant gallstone.

The widowed mother-of-four, who also has nine grandchildren and two great-grandsons, underwent surgery in an attempt to remove it but she collapsed in theatre and ended up in intensive care.

Once she had recovered, doctors tried to blast the gallstone using ultrasound waves but the procedure was unsuccessful.

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Mrs Pirie, who also suffers from renal failure and requires dialysis three times a week, ended up in hospital for eight months as her health fluctuated.

She said: "Two or three times I ended up in the intensive care unit. They didn't know whether I was going to pull through or not."

While in hospital, Mrs Pirie developed a spinal abscess as a result of an infection. In some cases this can lead to permanent paralysis, and Mrs Pirie initially lost all feeling below her waist.

Although she regained some sendation in her left leg, her right leg remained numb.

As a result she was confined to a wheelchair and had to be moved in and out of bed using a full body hoist.

However, her mobility was transformed after former A&E and occupational health nurse, Kate Barry, spotted the potential for nerve regeneration.

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Ms Barry had been working at Balhousie for around six months when Mrs Pirie arrived in August 2017.

She said: "Sheila complained of pain in her right leg, and that was the one she'd had no feeling in.

"I asked her what sort of pain and she said it was an electric shock type pain and I said 'good', because that was a sign of nerve regeneration.

"Nerves can take up to two years to regenerate if they've been damaged and it is described as an 'electric shock' sensation when they regenerate.

"I got the GP in to see her, arranged for physiotherapy and the physiotherapist agreed that the pain was a sign of nerve regeneration so they started Sheila on a programme of exercises."

Mrs Pirie was put on a tough regime of pilates, arm and leg exercises designed to rebuild her muscle and balance.

Gradually she was able to move from a wheelchair to a zimmerframe and now uses a three-wheel walking frame.

Ms Berry said: "At first, Sheila's muscle tone had all gone. She had a lot of pain and she ended up on painkillers because the nerve regeneration pain can be very bad.

"We had to walk beside her at first just because of the falls risk, and now she can get herself to the bathroom, go to the loo by herself, shower herself, she's becoming very independent."

Mrs Pirie is now one of the most active residents at Balhousie care home, which also looks after residents with cognitive illness such as dementia.

She said she was glad she had chosen Balhousie. She said: "Originally the plan was that I was going to go and live with my eldest son in Coupar Angus. Then he was diagnosed epileptic and his wife has ME and he has a son with special needs.

"I said 'look, you really don't want to take me on as well' so I booked myself into Balhousie. The staff are all really nice in here."

Mrs Pirie is now taking part in a 35 million step 'virtual walk' from Scotland to Australia measured on a fitbit device and organised by the home's activities coordinator.

She said: "We're about 60 per cent of the way now. We should reach Australia by the end of April or beginning of May. "