A woman has been left paralysed after years of enjoying laughing gas balloon binges.
Kerry Donaldson, from Newham, Greater London, started inhaling nitrous oxide in 2017, with her usage quickly escalating into three-day binges that would leave her vomiting for days.
The 25-year-old knocked it on the head in 2020 after a series of trips to hospital, due to numbness in her hands and legs.
But in January 2022, Kerry was hospitalised once again and told by doctors that her habit had led to a disc bulge in her lower back, leaving her unable to walk.
Kerry - who worked as a receptionist prior to the devastating diagnosis - is now dependent on her family for round-the-clock care and uses a wheelchair to get around.
Six months on from her diagnosis, Kerry is now sharing her story in a bid to raise awareness about the dangers of nitrous oxide use.
"I was doing it [balloons] on-and-off, usually at the weekends," she recalled. "It was the social thing, everybody was doing it.
"I didn't really understand the damage that it could cause. I just thought it was a bit of fun, I didn't think it would harm me. I was uneducated on the subject.
"Not long after that, I started losing feeling in my legs and hands. I went to the hospital and I was really honest to the doctors about using nitrous oxide. My B12 levels were low so I was put on B12 injections.
"At the time, I didn't care. I knew it was damaging me, but I didn't care. I never thought it'd get to a point where I'd be unable to walk and I'd need to use a wheelchair."
After experiencing initial health issues caused by nitrous oxide, things took a turn for the worst early in 2022 when Kerry was taken to Newham University Hospital.
She said: "When I went in, I couldn't even walk and the pain had come back even stronger. I had MRI scans and they saw that I had a disc bulge in my lower back and nerve damage.
"This was obviously caused by the balloons. I'd left it for so long and hadn't gotten it treated so the damage had gotten worse.
"I was in hospital for five weeks and came out in March. I've been unable to walk and on medication since.
"I'm hoping it will get better in time. Nobody can really tell, it's not like a test can be done and tell me if I'll get better."
Heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and to a form of anaemia, while severe B12 deficiency can lead to serious nerve damage, causing tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes.
One New York study found a link between chronic nitrous oxide abuse and spinal cord myelopathy, or damage, due to vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to muscle weakness and wasting.
Now Kerry hopes sharing her story on social media and with students will help raise awareness of the dangers.
She said: "I want to go into schools and colleges to speak to young people and educate them. I want to go to universities too, as I know balloons are used a lot there.
"There needs to be a lot more education regarding nitrous oxide use. I don't think a lot of people know about the potential effects.
"A lot of people think it's just a bit of fun and it can't do any harm to your body. I'm constantly in pain, but I've gotten used to the pain. I don't even remember how it feels not to have pain."
She added: "I wasn't reluctant about sharing my story online. I had people around me saying 'are you sure you want to share this?'
"In life, no matter what you do, people will say things about it. If I speak out and people have something bad to say, I won't entertain it.
"I know there'll be a lot of good to come out from speaking out, and that's what is important to me."Featured Image Credit: Kennedy News and Media