I went from a party animal to being bed bound and unable to breathe at just 27
A WOMAN went from being a 27-year-old party animal to bedridden with unable to breathe.
Georgina Pantano was enjoying her wild 20s while living in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
But things started to rapidly go downhill.
The now 36-year-old said: “By June 2012 I’d been feeling very breathless and getting bad chest pains for six months.
"I’d wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. It was actually very scary.”
Gerogina took advantage of private healthcare in Poland, where her mum lived, to get a swift diagnosis.
But she was horrified to be told she had a rare and incurable condition that would mean she had to stay in the country for 10 months recovering.
Georgina, a former beauty therapist, said her life “changed in a flash”.
"Before this happened, I was really sociable, I went out every weekend,” she said.
“I went to clubs, festivals and was living a really exciting life. I loved my job as a beauty therapist.
“I had to completely readjust. I used to be the life and soul of the party and now I can’t even walk to my car from the shops.
“I’m in agony and just talking leaves me exhausted.
"I'd swapped nights out for hospital stays… I'd spent more time in hospitals than I ever did in stylish nightspots."
Doctors in Warsaw diagnosed Georgina with diffuse systemic scleroderma, a condition which has no known cause.
It causes the skin and organs, including the lungs, to harden.
Georgina was told aggressive pulmonary fibrosis – when the lungs become damaged from scar tissue and are unable to absorb oxygen as efficiently – which was why she was struggling to breathe.
Speaking out during Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month, Georgina said: “The doctors were so worried about my condition they told me to stay and have immediate treatment.
“It was really traumatic. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone and was forced to quit the job I loved.
“I understand Polish, but I don’t speak it very well, so I couldn’t even express myself in the way I wanted to during my treatments.”
Diffuse systemic scleroderma is considered an autoimmune condition, meaning the body is attacking itself. It causes the skin to produce too many skin cells.
The skin thickening can cause tightening and loss of movement, especially in the fingers, as well as the face and mouth.
Changes to the blood vessels, muscles and joints can also lead to symptoms of pain, inflammation, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea and weakness.
Georgina said: "I was given various treatments including cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug used to suppress the immune system, to stop cells from growing for three weeks, which would prevent the fibrosis in my lungs from spreading."
When Georgina finally returned to the UK in May 2013, where she was referred to Royal Free Hospital in London for ongoing care, she was a shadow of her former self.
"I'd swapped nights out for hospital stays," she said.
"I'd spent more time in hospitals than I ever did in stylish nightspots."
Sadly, her condition has become progressively worse, and she can no longer work, with her vibrant social life now a distant memory.
“I’m not the party girl I used to be,” she said.
“I still go out and try and enjoy nights out when I feel well enough, but I can’t work. Just going to the shops is extremely difficult and needs a lot of planning.
“I can’t do much. I have to drive everywhere and sometimes if I walk too far I can’t get back.”
Georgina has faced discrimination as a result of having a hidden disability.
She said: “I get dirty looks all the time if I park in a disabled bay, or even use a disabled toilet.
"Scleroderma affects my gut, meaning I need to rush to the loo very quickly and a woman stopped me as I was about to go in and started questioning why I was using the disabled loo.
“I now use a wheelchair, as I can’t walk far at all and I get so anxious about what people are going to say.
“I just feel constantly judged and scrutinised, like people expect me to look sicker. Just because I don’t look sick doesn’t mean I’m a liar.”
Georgina lives with her mum and brother, and sadly lost her dad, Alfredo Pantano, 60, to Covid in October, before catching it herself two weeks later.
And, currently single, after a long-term relationship ended, she cannot imagine herself dating again any time soon.
She said: "Just the thought of trying to date with my condition is daunting.
"I’m just working on myself for now, as I feel exhausted by the very thought of trying to navigate meeting someone with my condition.”
Georgina wants to continue raising awareness of her condition, which she says made her dad proud.
She said: “While these kind of conditions are life changing, they haven't stopped me from living life as fully as possible and I want others in my position to do the same."
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