A British woman was left paralysed from the hips down after contracting a severe infection that doctors believe she caught from a stray cat. 

In 2014, Gemma Birch grew fond of a stray cat she named Catarina while on holidays in Portugal. 

Unbeknown to Birch, the cat was carrying a potentially deadly infection that would leave her wheelchair-bound. 

It wasn’t until the 24-year-old’s final day of her seven-day getaway that she starting vomiting uncontrollably, and fainting. 

Once she arrived home, the blogger was rushed to hospital where doctors discovered that her stool contained the bacteria campylobacter, which is commonly found in raw chicken. 

After spending a week in hospital recovering from severe food poisoning, Birch – who is a pescatarian – admitted to stroking the stray cat, which doctors believe picked up the bacteria after rummaging through the hotel bins. 

A week later, Birch was discharged from hospital, but was immediately rushed back after her legs began to feel numb in the middle of the night. 


She was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system

The 24-year-old spent the next four months in rehab, and only returned to her normal self 14 months later.

While her experience has left her too frightened to pet stray cats, the animal-lover won’t let the incident impact on her stroking domestic animals in the future. 

“As much as I love them, I couldn’t touch a stray cat now. I love pet cats and would stroke them as I would hope they haven’t rummaged around hotel bins.”

Birch is now speaking out to inspire people to enjoy every day, and appreciate their good health. 

“I don’t want people to wait until they have a negative life experience to appreciate life and live in the present… I hope my story inspires people to appreciate everything they have.”