Robotic surgery transforms life of computer programmer after rare condition

A computer programmer named in Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list says her life has been transformed after undergoing robotic surgery.

Anisah Osman Britton, who founded the London-based coding school 23 Code Street, was diagnosed with a rare condition known as myasthenia gravis, which causes muscle weakness.

Within weeks the disease had affected her vision, caused breathlessness and extreme tiredness.

Anisah, 27, found her diagnosis particularly hard to accept because her mother, Naazneen, also has it and, as a result, Naazneen needed a massive operation to remove her thymus gland, and has suffered from other illnesses since.

Anisah, who splits her time between west London and Mainz in Germany, said: “I realised something was wrong when I noticed that my right eye had started to droop and close by itself.

“Then I started to get double vision and breathlessness. Finding out I had myasthenia gravis caused a lot of anxiety because I knew what my mum had been through. She felt very guilty and struggled with my diagnosis, especially because it’s not thought to be genetic.

“I became lethargic, I put on weight due to having to lead a sedentary lifestyle and felt weak. I had been used to running up four flight of stairs to get to my office, but now I couldn’t even walk up one.”

Anisah was referred to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, where she was treated with medication which helps signals travel between muscles and nerves, improving her symptoms.

Tests also found that her thymus was enlarged and had a benign tumour on it, so it needed to be removed.

She was told this could hopefully be done using robotic surgery which would involve much smaller incisions and a faster recovery time.

The team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ has performed this robotic operation for about three years, treating around 20 patients each year.

Myasthenia gravis occurs when the immune system damages the junction between nerves and muscles, preventing messages from the nerve endings reaching the muscles, in turn making muscles weak and tired.

It is not clear why this starts but it is thought that the thymus gland in the chest, which contributes to the immune system, plays a part. Some people with the condition have an abnormally large thymus gland.

Dr Sui Wong, consultant neurologist and neuro-ophthalmologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Moorfields Eye Hospital, is one of the country’s leading specialists in myasthenia gravis and its effects on vision.

She said: “Myasthenia gravis can be limited to vision problems such as drooping eyelids and double vision or, in cases like Anisah’s, it can cause more generalised weakness of the body.

“Anisah is doing really well following her treatment. Her case is a bit unusual because myasthenia gravis isn’t usually genetic.

“It’s wonderful that Anisah has benefitted so much from having her thymus gland removed. We are all born with a thymus gland but in most people it starts to shrink away as you get older.

“Patients with myasthenia gravis can have an inappropriate enlargement of the gland and can develop tumours in it. If tumours are present the thymus needs to be removed as there is a risk they can continue to grow and cause harm.”

Within a few months of surgery Anisah’s vision and energy levels were even better, and she started therapy to help her to cope with what had happened.

She recently took part in the virtual London Marathon to raise money for Guy’s and St Thomas’. She said: “I just want to give back in some way. I can’t explain how amazing my care has been.”

To help Anisah reach her fundraising target visit Virgin Money Giving.

Pictured top: Anisah Osman Britton and mum Naazneen Osman Britton


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