Wales online article, by Abbie Wightwick, 16 October 2016: A teenager’s determination overcame a debilitating condition that took her out of school 16 OCT 2016

Despite missing months of school, Sophie Irving is now eyeing up an Oxbridge bid
sophie-irvingSophie Irving, 16, from Cardiff, who overcame chronic fatigue syndrome

A teenager has described how she was struck down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the age of 12.

Sophie Irving, 16, from Cardiff, said the syndrome started after she had a virus in year eight at Ysgol Glantaf.

“I had sinusitis and kept going to the doctor but didn’t have enough energy to do anything. I spent most of my time in the house. For three months I didn’t go to school or see friends.”

The schoolgirl had leg pains, headaches and exhaustion.

CFS does not show up on blood tests so her doctor sent her to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff where a specialist diagnosed it.

“CFS is a physical illness that is to do with chemicals in your brain,” said Sophie.

“There is no cure. You just have to push through. I was scared because I thought it was all in my head and started to doubt myself.”

Doctors advised Sophie to push herself and return to school for half days. By the start of year 10 she had returned full time.

But the pupil, who had been learning harp and piano as well as playing hockey and netball in and out of school, has cut back her activities and now just plays school netball.

The grim reality of being a 15-year-old girl and living with chronic fatigue syndrome

She got 14 GCSEs last summer, including 11A*s, two As and a B, is studying A levels and is considering going to medical school.

“My friends helped me a lot with copying up work when I missed lessons. I was discharged from the hospital after 14 months but it took me a year and a half to get back to normal.

“It was a real challenge to stay on top of my schoolwork.

“I was well enough to go back to school full time at the start of year 10, which was also the start of my GCSEs.

“I was worried about getting back into the swing of things. But after overcoming my condition, I was really motivated to work harder.”

Sophie says overcoming her illness made her more determined to catch up and do well at school. Sophie, who is studying A-level maths, history, chemistry, and physics, has been chosen for the Seren Network, a Welsh Government funded programme designed to stretch and challenge students beyond A-Level curriculum.

Selected students have access to reading lists and staff from leading UK universities including Oxford and Cambridge, while receiving subject support from teachers and information and advice about university applications.

Around 2,000 of Wales’s brightest A-level students have been invited to join the Seren Network.

Seren hubs for Merthyr/Rhonnda Cynon Taf, EAS (South East Wales Educational Achievement Service), Swansea, Wrexham/Flintshire, Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire, NPT/Bridgend/Powys, Cardiff, Anglesey/Gwynedd, and Conwy/Denbighshire have launched in the last year, with hubs in the Vale of Glamorgan and Ceredigion due to be launched soon.

Editorial note:  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a term that some people use to cover a range of conditions with a fatigue element, including ME. Some symptoms of ME, CFS, Fibromyalgia and Post viral fatigue syndrome overlap. It is important to be sure you have the correct diagnosis and pursue an appropriate management approach.

WAMES does not advise people with ME to ‘push through’.

A key characteristic of ME is the post exertional exacerbation of symptoms. In other words physical and mental activity can cause body systems to malfunction and symptoms to increase. Part of managing ME involves learning how much activity is too much at each stage of the condition.

There is only one known Consultant with an interest in ME in Wales – in Hywel Dda – so it can be difficult to get specialist confirmation of diagnosis and accurate management advice.

WAMES is working with Welsh Government officials and Health Board reps on the ME-CFS/FM All Wales Implementation Group to look for ways to improve healthcare for people with ME, CFS and Fibromyalgia. We would be interested in hearing your story of accessing healthcare in Wales for ME or CFS. Contact

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