Dubai teenager writes book about her life-threatening illness

Hannah Muldoon remembers little of her six-week coma but was able to write a book thanks to her mother's diaries

Hannah Muldoon at her villa in the Victory Heights in Dubai. She took ill on a school trip to London in 2019 and almost died. Pawan Singh / The National
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Dubai resident Hannah Muldoon has lived through a health crisis few others will ever experience.

It happened four years ago during a school trip to London, when she caught the flu and the infection quickly developed into pneumonia.

Her condition worsened and she spent six weeks in a coma, five months in hospital and the following years ­recovering from the life-threatening illness.

People thought the book would be difficult for me to write, but it was fun and it has helped me to get over this
Hannah Muldoon

Hannah wrote a book about it – largely thanks to the diary and journals kept by her mother while the teenager was in hospital.

The book, You Only Live Twice: When Inner Strength Is All You Have, is scheduled to be released next month and she hopes it will inspire other young people to tackle major challenges in their lives.

“I wanted to write a book about what I had been through and tell my story, tell others about what happened and help other people,” said Hannah, a Year 11 pupil at Dubai English Speaking School and College.

Her health deteriorated during a performing arts trip with the college.

She was admitted to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on November 16, 2019, and later transferred to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for continuing treatment for her heart and lungs.

Hannah remained in a coma for six weeks after being diagnosed with necrotising pneumonia and Staphylococcus aureus, a toxic strain of bacteria that developed into sepsis.

As the bacteria spread, Hannah’s parents were asked to sign a consent form to allow surgeons to amputate her leg if required.

On February 3, 2020, Hannah was transferred via helicopter to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh to be closer to her family.

She was finally discharged on April 17 that year but underwent extensive physiotherapy and Achilles lengthening surgery on both her ankles, as a result of her long stay in a hospital bed, eventually returning to Dubai in June 2021.

“It started off as the flu but I was getting better so decided to continue with the school trip as planned,” said Hannah.

“On the second day of the trip, I went to the hospital as I was finding it hard to breathe. The influenza I had weakened my immune system which then led to pneumonia.

“My lungs had filled up [with fluid] and I ended up in a coma for six weeks.

“No one knows why there were such complications, I had no other health issues."

Pandemic threat

But as Covid-19 began to widely circulate in early 2020, doctors at the Royal Brompton Hospital advised Hannah it would be safer to continue her recovery at home in Edinburgh, due to the high infection risk to vulnerable patients.

“My mum wrote a diary every day during the coma so I would not miss anything about what was happening,” said Hannah.

“It felt like a really long dream. I did not hear anyone who was speaking with me or know anything about what was happening to me.

“The overall experience made me want to write a book, and my mum was always so positive and believed I would pull through. She never questioned it once.

“Writing a book is something I have always wanted to do, and it took me around six months.

“People thought the book would be difficult for me to write, but it was fun and it has helped me to get over this.”

Hannah’s mum, Linda, originally started the diary to keep a record of her care and update her progress.

The first three days were traumatic and so the diary was completely blank as the family lived hour to hour, not knowing if Hannah would survive.

At first, the diary recorded medical information and updates from the doctors, such as infection markers, her heart rate, the antibiotics used, as well as Hannah's brain activity and vital signs.

Daily journal

Then the diary became more of a communication tool for the family.

“Hannah being in a coma for five weeks was really tough, so at the end of every day I would just sit and write telling her how much I missed her,” said Ms Muldoon, who works in real estate.

“I would tell her who had been to visit or who had sent her messages. Where her dad and I went for dinner and what we ate.

“I even included funny stories about the nurses' accommodation being flooded and us having to sleep in a children’s ward overnight.”

The family would play Hannah’s favourite music from Taylor Swift and Arianna Grande to her while she was unconscious.

Although her health has significantly improved, she still requires regular physiotherapy sessions and has peripheral nerve damage that can cause weakness and pain in the hands and feet.

The experience has seen her reassess her ambitions, and Hannah has abandoned her thoughts of attending university in the UK.

As she missed about 18 months of her education during her recovery she plans to stay in Dubai to catch up and now hopes to train as a lawyer in the UAE.

Family support

Hannah said she received unwavering support of her family, her mum, her dad Jim, a company director, and her older brother Ryan, who is hoping to make a professional football career in the US.

“My parents have been very positive and supportive about me writing a book,” said Hannah.

“The book has helped me to move on in life, and I’m no longer having any serious health issues.

“Hopefully anyone else in a similar situation or who is unsure of what to do with their life can be inspired by my book.”

Updated: August 13, 2023, 12:51 PM