A MOTHER struck down with swine flu days after giving birth has says she was "robbed of three months of my life".
Shirley Hamilton had to learn to walk, talk and eat all over again and admitted that the induced coma she endured left her like a "ragdoll", with no control over her own body.
But the Omagh woman is now looking forward to celebrating her 37th birthday in two weeks, in the knowledge that being reunited with her family is the best present she could ever receive.
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Shirley gave birth to little Thomas Michael on October 16 last year by emergency caesarean at the Erne Hospital in Enniskillen.
Days later she was diagnosed with swine flu, and had to be air-lifted to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for specialist care.
She lay there in an induced coma while her partner James maintained a vigil by her bedside - as well as flying to and from their Ulster home to look after the couple's 12-year-old twin daughters, Leanne and Michelle.
She was finally reunited with her family last November, five weeks after giving birth to Thomas, when she was flown back to Craigavon Area Hospital.
On January 18, Shirley was eventually deemed well enough to return to her home on the Tattysallagh Road, outside Omagh.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, the mum-of-three said she still felt "stiff and sore" but was simply "taking every day as it comes".
She's still receiving physiotherapy, and is combining that with rest, doing what she can around the house, and catching up on missed time with her children.
"It's just great being home - you really don't appreciate (what you have) until something happens," she said.
Shirley was waiting to be called to get the swine flu jab in the final stages of her pregnancy before she became sick.
In fact, a letter inviting her to get the vaccine arrived when she was already lying seriously ill with virus in hospital in London.
She remembers "very little" about being unwell, and has no recollection at all of being in the Royal Brompton.
After Thomas was delivered, she said she remembered feeling unwell and told she was being taken to the high dependency unit to get help with her breathing.
"I remember the RAF coming to take me to London - and the next thing I remember coming to Craigavon in an ambulance and my family being there."
Shirley's recollection of the few weeks that followed are equally hazy, save for "being in a bed and physiotherapists coming".
"I was unable to walk or do anything for myself. I had no control over my own body, I was just like a floppy doll and it was so scary."
Shirley said she was convinced that she would never be able to do anything for herself again.