A CHURCHGOER who made a full recovery from facial palsy is hoping to “break the taboo” surrounding the condition and ensure that others are given the level of support that, she says, she was “fortunate” to receive from her church community.
The churchgoer, Dr Philippa Tudor, developed facial palsy — a weakness of the facial muscles resulting from temporary or permanent damage to the facial nerve — suddenly, in 2010. The condition affects more than 100,000 people in the UK.
“I had never heard of the condition,” she said on Tuesday. “I looked in the mirror one evening, saw that one side of my face had drooped completely, and screamed in horror. It took me a couple of seconds to realise that the face I was looking at was still mine.”
This week is Facial Palsy Awareness Week. There are more than 50 causes of facial palsy, including disease, injury, stroke, birth trauma, cancer, and a neurological condition. The most common, which Dr Tudor experienced, is Bell’s palsy — a build-up of pressure from inflammation around the facial nerve which causes facial paralysis on the affected side.
Philippa Tudor, who has made a full recovery from Bell’s palsy
“Facial palsy can happen to anyone, at any time,” Dr Tudor, who is the clerk of the Liaison Committee in the House of Lords, said. It affected closing the eye, including to blink or to sleep, eating and drinking, speech, smiling, and frowning.
“Some people don’t hold back at commenting in public about someone who is wearing an eye patch for medical reasons — pirate jokes wear thin very quickly — and ‘facing the day’ to use public transport, to go to work, or to the shops, or even to church, can take courage.”
Bell’s palsy affects between 12,400 and 24,800 people in the UK each year: more than 20 per cent are left with permanent paralysis. Dr Tudor was among the majority to make a full recovery, with help and support from her church.
“Church friends quietly rallied round . . . one usually confined to a mobility scooter, somehow staggering up the steps to my house to deliver food parcels to sustain me, along with a stream of encouraging emails.
Dr Tudor now volunteers for the charity Facial Palsy UK, which was set up in 2012. The charity has launched a petition to raise awareness and conduct more research into facial palsy. More than 2000 people have signed; a further 8000 signatures would be needed to prompt a Government response; and 100,000 to put the issue forward for debate in Parliament.
The deputy chief executive of Facial Palsy UK, Karen Johnson, who was born with facial palsy owing to birth trauma, said: “A recent survey by Facial Palsy UK found that many people were struggling to access routine health-care for facial palsy, and more than half had suffered with anxiety and/or depression as a direct result of the condition.
“There is very little awareness, even in our health service, about the true impact of facial palsy; earlier referrals will improve patients’ quality of life and avoid long-term complications which can be costly to the NHS. This is why our petition . . . is so important.”