A former trainee nurse has praised her guide dog for giving her back a reason to live and helping her marry the man of her dreams, after a devastating illness caused her to lose her sight.
Stacey Percival was just 21 and training to be nurse when she fell ill on a family holiday with her long-term boyfriend Kierran. She suffered severe vomiting and diarrhoea, could not walk as her kidneys began to fail – within minutes she also lost her eyesight.
Her mother Alison begged her to go to hospital – but she was in so much pain she wanted to just “slip away”. Once in A&E, Stacey had complete kidney failure and was immediately placed on filtration dialysis.
As all her organs began shutting down, she needed surgery to fix a hole in her bowel, doctors put her into an induced coma for a week. Kierran and Stacey’s family were told she was unlikely to survive surgery.
But she came through against the odds and was eventually flown back to the UK – to spend the next three months fighting sepsis and blood clots.
I told Kierran I understood if he had to move on, to find happiness with someone else. He said, ‘No way, we’re in this together’.
Left with only limited peripheral vision, Stacey had to give up nursing and stop driving after having just passed her test and gained her independence.
She said: “I told Kierran I understood if he had to move on, to find happiness with someone else. He said, ‘No way, we’re in this together’.”
Stacey needed dialysis several times a week to keep her alive as she tried to rebuild her life. She decided she wanted a guide dog to regain the independence she was used to.
In April 2014, just eight months after she had fallen ill, she was matched with a lab-cross retriever called Toffee. After three weeks of training with 18-month-old Toffee, Stacey was able to begin her path back to independence.
He got me out of my depressed state and gave me a reason to live again. With Toffee by my side, I can do anything I want. I qualified with Toffee the same day my friends became qualified nurses.
Although Stacey has ongoing health issues and needs regular hospital checks, she has been able to find work as a customer services adviser and has bought her first home with Kierran – and the couple were later engaged in 2018.
They were finally able to tie the knot last month in Southam, having to delay their wedding three times due to Covid-19.
Stacey said: “Toffee stole the show, carrying the rings down the aisle in a box attached to the same blue bow tie as Kierran and the other ushers were wearing.
“There wasn’t a dry eye. Toffee was by my side all day, even watching longingly as Kierran and I had our first dance. Of course, I told everyone how much we owed to Toffee, how none of this would be possible without him. Kierran and Toffee love each other too, they’re always playing together.”
Proud groom Kierran said Stacey was “the strongest, most inspirational person”, adding: “With Toffee by her side, there’s nothing she can’t do. She’s constantly smiling, such a positive, happy person, and I feel blessed to have her by my side for the rest of my life.”
Stacey said: “To think that eight years ago I wanted my life to be over, and I had to completely reconstruct my life around my sight loss… it’s hard to put into words how happy I am to finally be Mrs Butcher.”
Guide Dog owner, Jaina, lost her sight after a rare allergic reaction and has gone on to become the country’s first blind fitness instructor.
Guide Dogs has teamed up with SignVideo to help make our support accessible to deaf people and people who have a combined sight and hearing loss who use sign language to communicate.