Student nurse trains at the hospital that saved her life

Posted on Thursday 23 November 2017
The ECMO team with Sophie Royce

Student nurse Sophie Royce with members of the ECMO team who saved her life.

A woman who nearly died due to a deadly strain of meningitis is now training to become a nurse at the same hospital that saved her life.

Sophie Royce, 25 from Reigate in Surrey, was struck with meningococcal septicaemia five years ago and was given just a 1% chance of survival after all of her organs started shutting down. She developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and then had a cardiac arrest.

Unable to stabilise Sophie, her local hospital contacted a specialised team at St Thomas’ Hospital in London who treat patients with ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) therapy.

The treatment temporarily replaces the work of the lungs or heart in patients with severe lung or heart failure, similar to dialysis for kidney failure. An ECMO machine continuously takes blood from the body, adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide and then returns it to the body.

The team travelled to Sophie’s local hospital, put her on the ECMO machine and brought her back to St Thomas’. ECMO slowly allowed Sophie’s body to heal and two months later she was well enough to go home.

Sophie, who worked as a child minder before she became ill, says the experience made her revaluate her life and decide to become a nurse. She is now in her final year of an adult nursing course at London South Bank University and is doing her practical training at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, which includes St Thomas’ Hospital.

Sophie, who now lives in Southwark, said: “There’s no way I would have considered becoming a nurse if it hadn’t been for what happened to me. I was in hospital for a long time and being around nurses and seeing the difference they make to patients made me realise that’s what I wanted to do. Spending so long in hospital made me even more determined to become a nurse.

“It was a lovely coincidence to find out that I would be doing my training at Guy’s and St Thomas’ after the teams here did so much for me. It’s nice to think that I was a patient here once and now I’m able to do nursing and help other people. I’d love to work here full time eventually. Now I can see what it’s like from the other side and my experience has shaped how I am as a nurse.”

Sophie says she owes everything to the ECMO team and recently nominated them in the ‘Ultimate Lifesaver’ category of The Sun’s Who Cares Wins health awards. She said: “I wouldn’t be here without them – there is no question of that. To have the gift of life is amazing. They don’t get as much recognition as they should and they are the most humble people I’ve ever met. I owe them everything.

“My family say they were so calm and made them feel at ease despite everything that was happening to me at the time, which is an amazing quality. I’m beyond grateful to the team and think about what they did for me every day. They are very special.”

Dr Nick Barrett, consultant in critical care, said: “Sophie is one of many young men and women that we look after with a devastating illness. She developed severe breathing difficulties, poor lung function and then multi organ failure.

“Thankfully Sophie made a slow and steady recovery with the therapies we provided. It is amazing to see how well she has recovered and it’s fantastic that she is now joining the nursing profession.

“Seeing the difference ECMO can make to patients like Sophie is why we do what we do. It is only thanks to the work of a big team – consisting of nurses, perfusionists, physiotherapists, dietitians and consultants – that we are able to save lives.

“Patients suitable for ECMO are desperately sick and have reached the limits of conventional medical therapy. It is our aim to return patients to a good quality of life so before we can treat them with ECMO we need to make sure that their lung problems are potentially reversible and that they were physically strong enough before they got ill to cope with spending weeks or months recovering in hospital.”

St Thomas’ is one of five hospitals to provide an ECMO service across the NHS. The service treats patients in south east England and is the largest ECMO centre in the UK, caring for more than 100 patients a year.  

Sophie is now an Ambassador for Meningitis Research Foundation, the charity that supported her during her recovery. For more information visit

Hear from nursing staff and students about why they chose Guy’s and St Thomas’ to start their careers here.

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