Now 29, Vickie Harkness should not really be here.

She was struck down with a rare, life-threatening neurological condition and almost died.

The Carlisle woman then faced a two-year battle to relearn everything and rebuild all of the strength she had lost.

But she never gave up, and three years on she is amazing everyone.

She has gone from needing 24-hour care to competing in the British figure skating championships and working as an outdoor activities instructor.

Now Vickie is trying to raise funds for the hospital that saved her life and awareness of encephalitis, in the hope more people will get diagnosed earlier - before it is too late.

In her case, the condition went undetected for a long time.

At first it was misdiagnosed, and it was only when her body was starting to shut down that medics realised what it was.

Encephalitis is a serious neurological condition, where the brain becomes inflamed. As it swells, it starts to affect the person’s mind and body in a similar way to a stroke.

Symptoms include confusion or disorientation, seizures, changes in personality and behaviour, difficulty speaking, weakness or loss of movement in some parts of the body and loss of consciousness.

Vickie, who lives in Dowbeck Road, in the west of the city, with wife Shona, explained that in her case it was an autoimmune condition - where the body starts to attack itself - that was brought on after the flu.

“Whenever you get ill you produce white blood cells. I produced too many and it affected my brain,” she said.

“Initially it affected my memory, particularly my short-term memory. I started forgetting little things. Then I couldn’t remember what I did yesterday.

“The memory loss was so bad I started to forget where I was or what I was doing, I also started seeing things that weren’t there.

“Then it starts to erase your long-term memory. Gradually you forget how to walk and move. My organs started to shut down.”

Vickie said that because of the way the person acts, the symptoms are often misdiagnosed.

“It took a really long time to diagnose me. That’s quite common - too common.,” she explained. “They thought it was schizophrenia, psychosis, epilepsy... the list goes on.”

But the longer it took, the more poorly she became - and the chances of ever making a full recovery dropped.

“After a while my brain stopped being able to send triggers through my body to help me move, and before I knew it my brain stopped being able to tell my organs to function.

“I was starting to deteriorate and die,” she explained.

Eventually Vickie had a lumbar puncture - to test the spinal fluid - and it came back positive for autoimmune encephalitis.

She needed urgent treatment by specialists in Newcastle, before her body completely shut down.

“I was rushed with blue flashing lights to the RVI (Royal Victoria Infirmary) and put in an induced coma. Ward 43 in Newcastle saved my life,” said Vickie.

But her pulling through was only the first stage. She was in hospital for three months, initially fighting to regain just basic movement.

“I had the worst two years of my life in recovery. I am now fully recovered, but after the biggest fight imaginable.

“I was disabled. I was in hospital for our first wedding anniversary and they told Shona I’d never be the same again,” she said.

“You’re not supposed to recover really. Not many people do. If you google it, you don’t hear of many people that make a full recovery.

“When I was in hospital, nobody let me read about it for that reason. They knew I’d get scared. A lot of people think that’s it, but I want people to know that it’s not. That you can recover. That’s why I wanted to share my story.”

Vickie had a strong sense of determination and great support.

She pressed on with her rehabilitation, to the point where she wanted to go home.

To be allowed to leave hospital, Shona had to prove that she could be properly looked after, 24 hours a day. “I had to be babysat by friends and family,” said Vickie.

Even now she says her memory has not fully returned.

“My memories from the past - I’ve probably got about 80 per cent back. There are still massive chunks that are missing,” she said.

But aside from that, she is living life to the full.

During her recovery she set herself goals to challenge her body and brain. She completed an NVQ level 3 in childcare, months ahead of schedule, and became an outdoor activities instructor.

She also threw herself in the deep end, resurrecting her love of ice skating - going on to compete in a national competition.

“I decided to do everything I’d been scared to do before, so I joined the Dumfries team. I just thought ‘why not?’” she said.

Vickie competed in the British Ice Skating national championships in April, which was a huge moment for her.

Now she is devoting some of her newfound energy into her campaign to raise awareness of encephalitis.

“I want people to see that you can recover, but also to let more people know about it - what it is and how it can be misdiagnosed. That’s really important,” she said.

“People die or become permanently disabled because encephalitis isn’t caught in time.”

Vickie said that only one in three people in the UK have even heard of the condition.

There was a encephalitis storyline on TV soap Hollyoaks last year, which helped raise its profile. The Encephalitis Society worked closely with producers on the storyline - which saw four-year-old character Dee Dee Hutchinson diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis.

But Vickie also wants to raise its profile locally, and has organised a charity fun day in Carlisle on August 3 to do just that.

The Be Aware 2019 family event will also raise funds for Ward 43 at the Royal Victoria Infirmary - to thank staff for saving her life.

It will take place at the Royal Scot, in Langrigg Road, Morton, from 12pm to 6pm. Tickets are £5.

Entertainment will include live performances from the Cake Junkies and 2 of a Kind, Stardust Parties, Blossom aerial fitness, Silverband falconry, archery, bingo and a raffle.

Vickie held a fundraiser, back in 2017, and raised more than £1,200, but she wants this one to be bigger and better. Tickets are on the door. Everyone is welcome.