Belfast Telegraph

Belfast woman's wheelchair plea as she battles crippling foot pain

Clarissa Whitley
Clarissa Whitley
Clarissa’s badly swollen feet
Clarissa Whitley with her husband Alan
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A debilitating foot condition pushed an east Belfast woman to the brink of taking her own life after the pain and suffering made her feel her life was "totally pointless".

Clarissa Whitley's world was rocked when she developed peripheral neuropathy in her feet in January, a condition which can arise when nerves become damaged.

This then led to erythromelalgia, a rare vascular peripheral pain disorder where blood vessels become blocked, usually in the hands or feet, before becoming inflamed.

As a result of severe blisters and her inability to walk due to the symptoms, Clarissa has been forced to work from home and to use a wheelchair.

She has had to give up everything from driving to her social life, and even wearing socks and shoes.

In a bid to gain back some of her independence, the 30-year-old is aiming to raise £2,500 for an electric wheelchair in the hope it will make her feel like "the old Clarissa" again.

Her agonising ordeal began last December during the return journey to her hotel from an Andre Rieu concert in Glasgow when she developed a blood blister during the half-hour walk.

Her symptoms deteriorated, with an ache in both feet, stiff toes, stabbing pains and spasms.

As the pain continued through January, Clarissa was prescribed medication but it took six weeks before the pills began to work.

"I was walking into town with my friend in February from work to get stuff for lunch but when I got back to the office my feet were on fire," she explained.

"I was forced to go home from work a few times because my feet were so sore. Whenever I got home I had to raise them and try and cool them down.

"They even reacted when the heat came on in the house. They swell up, go bright red, feel like they're burning and I couldn't even walk on them. No matter what I was doing they were just flaring all the time."

Praising her employers, civil engineering company Jacobs UK Ltd in Belfast, for their understanding, the civil engineering technician said she has had to take sick leave for three months as the pain was just too much.

Husband Alan also felt the stress of his wife's condition, balancing work with caring duties.

One of Clarissa's episodes of extreme pain can last for up to eight hours and she admitted she has thought about taking an overdose. "I was screaming in pain all day in bed, making myself hoarse. I couldn't eat or sleep.

"My mother-in-law would come round and see me at lunchtime and walk the dog.

"I thought to myself that if she leaves at half 12, no one would be back home until after five o'clock.

"I thought I could pop the pills and no one would find me until it was too late, it was just that bad. I felt there was no way out of it.

"I'm only 30 and I don't have any kids so I saw my whole life as pointless."

In March Clarissa spent four weeks in the Ulster Hospital but was discharged as medical staff said there was nothing that could be done as there is currently no cure for either of her conditions.

Clarissa hopes an electric wheelchair may help as she looks to the future.

"I'm still on medication and morphine," she added. "I can't drive anymore either and if I want to go anywhere I have to rely on a lift from someone and I can't use public transport.

"I always have to have someone with me. The first time I went to my friend's house was to watch Eurovision but I had to leave because I was in too much pain, which was really upsetting.

"I would have gone to every work social event as I have a lot of friends there.

"I don't get to do anything like that now because I don't know who's going to push me (in the wheelchair), I can't drink alcohol because it creates flares and is there going to be enough room for me in the bar with my wheelchair? It's just too much stress. I am pretty much in the house 24/7, I can't even go shopping any more."

To contribute towards an electric wheelchair for Clarissa, visit

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