Following a 20-hour overnight ferry from Santander to Plymouth, Rachel Pighills and her husband Guy were stopped by Border Force officials where Rachel was pictured lying on a stretcher sobbing inside a warehouse at the docks
Image: Rachel Pighills/SWNS)
Shocking pictures show a British mum who had life-saving brain surgery in Spain being arrested by UK Border Force officials who accused her of drug smuggling.
Rachel Pighills, 36, was left at risk of being “internally decapitated” following a freak ceiling fan accident when the whizzing blades smashed into the back of her head.
She was moving into a new house in August 2018 when the accident happened and the impact left her with atlanto axial instability and basilar invagination – meaning her brain was sinking into her spine.
Rachel could no longer turn her head because each time she did her spine would partially dislocate, increasing the risk of paralysis or death.
Rachel and her husband Guy, 41, spent almost four years trying to raise £215,000 for pioneering surgery which is not available on the NHS.
Anita Maric / SWNS)
They reached the milestone after a woman in her 60s from Warwickshire loaned them £130,000.
After being told it was too risky for Rachel to travel to Barcelona by plane for the operation, Guy drove her 1,055 miles in a second-hand ambulance.
The 13-and-a-half-hour surgery on May 20 involved inserting metal rods into her spine and re-setting the position of her skull and brain stem.
The operation was a success and after almost a month in the hospital, Rachel and Guy drove back to the UK on June 17.
Following a 20-hour overnight ferry from Santander to Plymouth, they were stopped by Border Force officials who accused them of drug smuggling.
Disturbing images show Rachel lying on a stretcher sobbing while connected to an oxygen tank inside a warehouse at the docks.
Officials took almost four hours to complete their meticulous search of the ambulance before allowing the couple to continue on their journey.
The couple, who has a 14-year-old daughter, eventually made it back home to their home in Pershore, Worcestershire, where Rachel is now recovering.
Rachel said: “After all we’ve been through, after the operation, we were so looking forward to coming home. When we arrived in Plymouth, border force literally leapt on our vehicle and accused us of being drug smugglers.
Anita Maric / SWNS)
Anita Maric / SWNS)
“I couldn’t believe it. We had all the documentation but they wouldn’t listen. One of them was really rude and looked quite disappointed when they couldn’t find anything.
“Bizarrely, neither the sniffer dog or the officials found the big bag of opiates and painkillers I’d been given by the clinic.”
Guy comforted his wife while they were “treated like criminals.”
Her husband said: “We got spotted by border control and they stripped our ambulance to pieces.
“They were convinced we were smuggling drugs into the country and we were there for three and a half hours.
“They stripped the panels took the air panels off and shoved a camera everywhere and they found nothing.
“It was horrendous, it was painful for Rachel and it has affected her recovery and set her back.
“They asked her to get off the stretcher but we wanted her to stay which made them suspicious that we were trying to hide something.
“They made us wheel Rachel off the ambulance and bless her, she was screaming her head off when she was going down and then they stripped the ambulance and this affected her breathing and her oxygen levels due to the stress that this caused her.
“They made us wheel the luggage off. We took months worth of Rachel’s medication but the dog didn’t even find that. All they found was a £20 note in Rachel’s purse.
“As soon as we propped her up and they could see the dressing all down her back the mood changed. But we didn’t get an apology.
“It was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever been through. We are British citizens, we have paid our way our whole lives. It’s a disgrace.”
Neurosurgeon Dr Vicenc Gilete performed the painstaking operation at Teknon Hospital in Barcelona.
Rachel said: “The recovery time for this operation is 12 months minimum. Dr Gilete showed us a picture of the operation and it looked like a shark attack, which shows how severe it is.
“I’ll be doing physiotherapy every day to regain my strength. I’ll always have to turn from my hips but my one goal is to take the dogs for a walk with my family.”