Wheelchair bound: Tonya lost ability to walk eight years ago. *Photo by Sirkka Huish
Wheelchair bound: Tonya lost ability to walk eight years ago. *Photo by Sirkka Huish
Wheelchair bound Tonya Symonds is desperate to find an indoor swimming pool as she battles to achieve her dream of getting back on her feet.

The 23-year-old woman suffers from chronic pain syndrome and lost the ability to walk nearly eight years ago.

But Tonya believes the one thing that can help her to "get her life back" is to strengthen her muscles and joints with water therapy.

During the summer months she has seen "huge improvements" by doing exercises and stretches in a family friend's outside pool. But now that the weather has turned she is trying to find an indoor swimming pool so she can continue with her therapy.

Tonya said she did not want to lose the progress she had gained over the summer.

She said: "Finding an indoor swimming pool that I can use will be a sure sign step to me getting back on my feet.

"I am able to move freely and my abilities greatly improve because of the gravity.

"And I find I get to do in the pool significantly improves what I can do on land."

She added: "I'm hoping it will help me to get my life back."

When Tonya was 12-year-old and in her first year at Berkeley Institute she suffered what she thought was flu, but the symptoms wouldn't go away.

She said: "I'd been a normal, healthy child who got really sick and I thought it was flu, but I was in a lot of pain and the pain never went. My whole body just hurt, it was awful."

Diagnosis

She was referred to the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta where she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia - a disorder classified by chronic widespread pain.

It is not known for sure but is believed that the disorder was triggered by a virus. Tonya was put on daily pain relief medication and her symptoms vary from day-to-day with periods of flares.

She missed a semester of school in 1997 as she was laid up in pain, but with the help of physio she started to walk again and was able to return to school.

For several years she suffered little pain, but in 2000 aged 15 she noticed the flare ups were becoming more frequent.

She said: "Everything just snowballed as I didn't really have time to recuperate in-between."

By November that same year Tonya found herself "paralysed in pain" throughout her body. She was bed-ridden for months, she couldn't move her legs and she couldn't even sit up.

She said: "It came as a complete shock, I was suffering every kind of pain imaginable. It wasn't just muscular pain, it was serious joint pain."

In January 2001 Tonya was admitted to King Edward Memorial Hospital for therapy - she was an in-patient for seven weeks and an out-patient until early 2002. It was at this time that Tonya started using a wheelchair.

She began to walk with parallel bars and stand upright with the aid of a standing walker but admitted she had a "hard time with the therapy."

Tonya was re-admitted to King Edward in May, 2002, then went on to spend two months at New England Rehabilitation Hospital near Boston and a further nine months at the UCLA Hospital in Los Angeles. She was pleased to be able to walk with canes as maid of honour at her sister's wedding in July 2003.

Tonya has since been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome - another chronic progressive disease characterised by severe pain - and spent another stint at the New England Rehabilitation Hospital in late 2004.

Home therapy

For more than a year Tonya has been carrying out her own therapy at home and carries out a series exercises and stretches on a daily basis.

Tonya said: "My problem is trying to keep things up. Every time I seem to make some progress I seem to take a step backwards.

"I am doing the therapy myself as I realize I have to try something different to make this work. I know my own body, I know when to push it further and I know when to stop.

"Instead of doing it the fast and hard way, I'm going to go slow and steady."

Tonya is currently studying an introduction to psychology course at home and hopes to study English at an overseas school next year.

But the one thing Tonya wants more than anything right now is an indoor swimming pool to continue with her therapy.

Describing what it's like to be in the water, she said: "It just makes me so happy, I just can't stop grinning."