Kelle Bryan's Story
Singer Kelle Bryan was topping the charts with Eternal when she was suddenly struck down. She shares the moment doctors told her she may never walk again....
"I could feel the adrenalin pumping through my body as I sang to a crowd of 100,000 people at London's Party in the Park. On that sunny day in Hyde Park in July 1998, it felt like Eternal had made it - we'd topped the charts in the UK and in America and had sold millions of albums. But, below the surface, I was having real problems with the other band members. We were always arguing and it felt like they were freezing me out.
A week after the Party in the Park, I received a fax from the other 2 girls saying they wanted me out, I knew things were bad but, after 6 years together, I didn't expect this. Over the next 3 months, I consulted lawyers and we finally agreed on an out-of-court settlement. The whole thing was incredibly stressful but I knew I had to move on, so I decided on a solo career.
Days before I was due to start recording my first album in Italy, I came down with a bad cold. I felt groggy but wanted to keep going. After a week, my manager sent me home as I just couldn't shake it off. Infact, I'd got worse - my whole body ached.
My doctor diagnosed post-viral syndrome and told me to take paracetamol for the aches. I rested for a few weeks, but still felt dreadful. By now my mouth was covered in ulcers, I had a scaly rash across my cheeks and my legs were really swollen. My mother and my boyfriend of 5 years, Rene, were really concerned, so I went to see a specialist. He gave me steroid injections but couldn't give me any diagnosis beyond what my doctor had said.
The injections worked at first, but then the stiffness and aching spread through my body to the point where I couldn't walk. Rene had to carry me to the toilet. I was frightened and confused, as I had no idea what was wrong with me.
We decided to get a second opinion. Dr David D'Cruz a rheumatologist in London (now at the Louise Coote Lupus Unit), said I may be suffering from something called lupus, an autoimmune disease and admitted me to the hospital for tests. I felt relieved I was finally going to find out what was wrong with me. After a week of biopsies, blood tests and even neurological tests using electric shocks, I was diagnosed with SLE, the most common type of lupus, caused by the immune system attacking the body.
The doctors explained there was no cure, but that steroids and medication would help. They told me lack of mobility, the rash and stress on major organs were common and because it had taken so long to diagnose there was already some damage to my kidneys and liver. They said I might never get back to full strength and I could be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
It was impossible to take in. The doctors left the room and I just thought 'this is it. This is my life'. But then I started thinking about remissions - the doctor said I might get better for short periods - and I started to feel stronger and more hopeful.
From that moment, I refused to accept the picture the doctors had painted for me - I was not going to be a patient for the rest of my life. When I next saw mum and Rene I was defiant. 'I'm going to do everything I can to get better' I told them.
I stayed in hospital for 10 more days, until the steroids took effect. The doctors had said stress was a possible trigger for the lupus. Not really surprising considering the legal battle, plus I'd been working non-stop with Eternal since I was 15.
After leaving hospital, I spent a few weeks at a recovery unit in Hertfordshire before going home to London. I was able to move again because of the steroids but, after 3 months in bed was very weak. I decided to set myself small goals; little things like walking to the bathroom unaided. To strengthen my arms, I lifted cans of beans, but I'd only manage a few. Some days I was so exhausted I was in tears but I was determined not to give up.
2 months later, I started recording again. I'd literally sing 1 line then rest for half an hour. By the end of the year I was ready to promote my album. Dr D'Cruz advised me to wait until I was more stable, but it was what I lived for. So, in early 2000, I flew to LA for the video. But the night before filming I was brushing my hair when great chunks started to coming out. It was the final straw. I just collapsed on the floor crying. My doctor said it was a side effect of the steroids, so next morning I was sent to an alopecia clinic for a wig.
We went ahead with the video, but I was still weak and had to sleep four or five times a day. During interviews to promote 'Higher Than Heaven' I'd get convulsive shakes that meant I'd have to stop, take some medication and sleep for an hour before I could go on. But it was worth it - despite being exhausted, I felt I'd proved to myself I could still succeed.
Back in the UK, I resumed my rehab programme, In time my hair grew back, my skin healed and by 2002, I had halved my steroid intake and started jogging. I even took up kickboxing and in 2003, to everyone's surprise, entered a tournament and actually won! I also decided to start my own record label, Red Hot.
By the end of 2003, I came off my drugs completely. I hadn't had any flare ups and in 2004, I had a full medical that showed there was no trace of any lupus activity in my blood. Although doctors warned me it could come back, I feel healed.
Today the only remnants are scars and the odd twinge in my kidneys. So few people know about lupus, but it particularly affects young women. I became a Patron of the St Thomas' Lupus Trust to help raise awareness. My advice to anyone is to think positive - I was determined not to let lupus ruin my life and I believe that's how I found the strength to get better."
This article was originally written in 2005, we're pleased to report that Kelle remains well and leads a very busy life.