Bath student Ruby Chamberlain crowdfunds £35,000 for life-changing surgery

Think your lockdown was productive? Bath student Ruby Chamberlain crowdfunded £35,000 for life-changing surgery to treat her Complex Regional Pain Syndrome to hopefully allow her to get back to university and the life she loves.

Bath Time caught up with the final-year economics student to talk living with a chronic condition, her favourite fundraising challenge and the amazing support she’s received from the Bath community.

BT: So what is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and how does it affect your life?

Ruby: I suffer from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome from my back to my feet. It essentially means that your nervous system in that area doesn’t work properly, so extreme pain signals are constantly firing up to your brain.

My CRPS has got a lot worse over the last couple of years, which has drastically impacted my mobility and quality of life. When I first went to uni the pain was constant, but the base level was much lower, so I could meet people and go on nights out and it didn’t have to be the first thing I mentioned.

In second year, it just plummeted. I would go to the pub and within ten minutes I would have to sit down. Now, it’s within 30 seconds that I have to sit down.

At uni I was probably getting four hours of sleep a night, if that, because the pain means it’s impossible to stay asleep for longer than 45 minutes. Now my sleep is basically nil. As a student it’s difficult because you need your brain power in order to concentrate, but it’s just not there.

This past year my condition got so bad that I had to leave my placement, which was gutting. I hope that after surgery and recovery I’ll be able to manage final year because at the moment, there just isn’t a chance.

BT: You’ve done some fun challenges on social media. Can you tell us about your fundraising highlights, and how you went about reaching so many people?

Ruby: The fundraising ran through lockdown so it had to be all online, but we’ve done so many fun things.

My first highlight was a ‘lockdown lads to quarantine queens’ competition – basically a big drag makeover for my boyfriend and dad. We had the best, most hilarious day. My dad had eyelash glue on him for about a week afterwards.

The second highlight was when I actually hit the target. I was on just over £28,000 and I tweeted a Youtuber with millions of followers. I thought they’d never see it but it could be worth a go. When I came back to my phone, I had a notification that this Youtuber had donated the entirety of the remaining £7000, completely anonymously. I thought I would have to fundraise for so much longer and then all of a sudden, the funds were there, which was just unbelievable.

BT: So thanks to that generous donation at the end, you’ve now reached over £35,000 and you have a date booked for surgery. Could you tell us about what the surgery involves, and what you’re hoping the outcome might be?

Ruby: The surgery inserts a “pain pacemaker”, a little generator just smaller than a matchbox under the skin, with wires connected up to your spine. It interferes with the pain pathways going up from the bottom half of my body to my brain, acting like a filter.

You charge the generator like a wireless phone charger, but through your skin, and I’ll have a remote control to change the frequencies and different settings, depending on where my pain is. The technology is really futuristic.

I’m really hopeful that it’s going to help reduce my pain, increase my mobility, allow me to sleep more, get back to uni and start enjoying myself again. I’m hoping to go into uni part-time in September and, if I’m recovering well, then go full-time in second semester.

BT: Your story has brought so much positivity to people’s lives over recent months, seeing such an uplifting and community-based campaign, and so many people getting involved, from family and friends to strangers.

Ruby: The University of Bath community has been amazing. It’s a really nice reflection of the students, alumni, and community; just how many people who I don’t know have reached out. It’s amazing how many kind people there are.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to every single person that has engaged with my campaign. I don’t often get emotional, but it is genuinely unbelievable because I had got to the point where I had accepted my situation: that I couldn’t finish my degree, I’d have to live at home with my parents forever, not be able to work, not be able to do anything. I cannot express how grateful I am and how life-changing this is going to be.                                                    

I’m going to keep posting updates after surgery but the main thing I can say is a massive thank you to every single person that has got involved and donated. It has been amazing.

Editor’s note: At the time of publication, Ruby has now had surgery and is recovering well. You can follow her story by searching for ‘Ruby Chamberlain Go Fund Me’.

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