FITNESS fanatic Donna Thompkins used to work out in her gym at home five times a week.
The 65-year-old was especially keen on gymnastics, getting her house fitted with wall bars and professional exercise equipment.
But when she was struck down by a debilitating spinal condition called scoliosis three years ago she thought her days of doing the splits were over.
Major surgery looked like the only option – but thanks to specially designed exercises and a lot of willpower she has made a miraculous recovery.
Her problems started when, after years of taking pride in being fit, healthy and staying active, she started to get pain shooting down her back and a loss of breath during simple tasks.
And when a GP diagnosed her with scoliosis, which causes sufferers to develop a curved spine, she was devastated.
The choices Mrs Thompkins, of Oxford Road, Headington, was presented with were either to accept her condition and live with the pain, or join the waiting list for major surgery.
She said: “Finding out I had scoliosis was awful, I felt tot-ally deflated all the time and I was paranoid about my back and very conscious about it getting worse.
“I am so active, so I hated feeling like I was relying on other people and I was so scared I would end up unable to walk – let alone carry on with gymnastics.
“I can remember feeling really frustrated as no one would give me any information, and the only advice I got was to have my spine fused.”
The clinic she found – Scoliosis SOS – opened six-and-a-half years ago and is located in central London.
“The exercises have been a miracle for me,” said Mrs Thompkins. “I feel stronger than ever and I feel so full of life. I feel amazing.
“I have my flexibility back and I don’t feel like I need to burst into tears all the time any more. My friends have said they have never seen me smile so much.
“I am pain free; those are three words I never thought I would hear myself saying again. It really does feel good to have my life back, and to be able to do the splits again is incredible.”
Care coordinator at the clinic, Kylie Hobson, said there has been a dramatic improvement in Mrs Thompkins’ quality of life.
She said: “What we work on is an exercise plan that is aimed at strengthening the muscles around the spine.
“This helps prevent further progression of the condition and reduces pain.”