Get behind courageous Ashtonfield woman's bid to get some of her independence back | Editorial

Every now and then a story comes along that puts into stark view just how quickly a life can be turned upside down.

The story of Ashtonfield woman Erika Butel-Simoes, 29, is one such tale.

Erika Butel-Simoes at her Ashtonfield home. Picture: Marina Neil

Erika Butel-Simoes at her Ashtonfield home. Picture: Marina Neil

Seven years ago, Erika (pictured) had just finished an occupational therapy degree and had enrolled to study medicine at the University of Newcastle.

What happened to Erika could have happened to anyone. She picked up a virus while on a holiday in the USA at the beginning of 2010.

Then in her early 20s, she didn’t think much of the symptoms at the time and soldiered on, as many people do on a daily basis – who could blame her?

Little did she know that the illness she contracted was triggering a major autoimmune condition that, within a few months, would take her from being a young woman following her dreams, to being confined to a bed, barely able to raise her head without losing consciousness.

The severity of the situation became clear when she presented to the John Hunter Hospital emergency department with chest pains, was admitted and didn’t return home for four years.

Think about the courage it takes to come through that, alone, with a smile on your face.

That’s not to mention the daily struggle her illness must be.

To speak to Erika is to come into contact with a young woman who knows the injustice of the hand she has been dealt, but who isn’t letting it beat her. 

Nor does she take lightly the overwhelming community support she has received in recent weeks.

She said many kind people in the community have offered to raise money or help her over the years, but she never felt she needed anything enough to accept the offer.

But now, the van she uses to transport herself and her wheelchair is breaking down and she needs a replacement. She can’t work and the NDIS can only perform wheelchair modifications on a near-new vehicle.

Reluctantly, she has asked for help and the community is answering in droves. But there’s still a way to go to reach the target which, to Erika, would be a huge step towards clawing back some of the independence that was taken from her in 2010.

If you can, visit and help her get her new wheels.