Jaina from Leicester was left visually impaired and fighting for her life after a rare allergic reaction. After overcoming her fear of dogs, she was matched with guide dog Laura and has since gone on to become the country’s first blind fitness instructor.
In 2002, aged 17, Jaina Mistry had a sudden allergic reaction to penicillin. Within three hours her eyes, throat and skin were covered in blisters and she was rushed to intensive care. Jaina was diagnosed with an extreme form of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which affects around one in every three million people. She lost 60 per cent of her skin and within 12 months had lost her eyesight.
Jaina explained: “I had to be treated as a third-degree burn victim and I was in a coma-like state for 10 days and in hospital for three months. I was quite lucky to have survived the condition. My world had turned upside down, but I had to try and get myself back on my feet. I felt ready to go back to college and wanted to start my life again.”
Soon after Jaina completed a course in reflexology and then completed a degree in Complimentary Therapy at the University of Derby in 2009. She became more and more interested in fitness and started attending her local gym but was struggling with her independence.
I had to take taxis to the gym which were expensive, and I needed sighted assistance to get in and out of the building. I’d always feared dogs, which is common within Asian culture, so initially I didn’t think a guide dog was for me. But having met a friend who had a guide dog, it changed my perception completely, and I realised they aren’t scary and are friendly, so I went ahead and applied.
In 2012, after being assessed and trained by Guide Dogs, Jaina qualified with her first guide dog Laura, a black Labrador cross Golden Retriever, on her 28th birthday.
Jaina explains: “When I met Laura for the first time, it was love at first sight. Her energy, her temperament, her calm and gentle nature - she put my mind at ease straight away. Laura settled in really well and became the first dog to be part of our family. She helped break Asian cultural norms, helping relatives overcome their fears of dogs and changing attitudes. The way she guided me was beyond words – she avoided things, she was careful, I felt super safe with her.”
During their nine-year partnership together, Laura played a vital role in helping Jaina develop her fitness career which enabled her to go to Loughborough college and qualified as England’s first blind female fitness instructor. Jaina has since qualified as a nutrition and weight management consultant and Jaina has won several fitness awards.