Interview | Life with my Assistance Dog

“Petworth has changed my life greatly…he has given me a reason to get up every morning.”

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the lovely Harriet Butler about life with her beloved assistance dog, Petworth.

Harriet, 26 from Worcestershire, studied media and cultural studies at University and currently volunteers at KEMP hospice. Like me, she has a form of muscular dystrophy.

Here she explains all about the application process and why she wouldn’t be without her canine partner…


1. What is your disability and how does it affect you?

I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This form of muscular dystrophy predominately affects boys but in rare cases females like me can have the condition. Duchenne is a progressive muscle-wasting condition that affects every muscle in the body. I was diagnosed at the age of nine. When I was younger I was able to run and jump around but over time things became more difficult and eventually impossible. When I was twenty-two, I broke my ankle and now I am unable to weight-bear and so I rely on a wheelchair to get around.

2. What made you decide to get an assistance dog and what did the process involve?

Several years ago I visited the dog show ‘Crufts’ at the Birmingham NEC. Whilst I was there, I watched an assistance dog demonstration. I was blown away by what the dogs could do.

In June 2014, I had a spectacular fall and broke my ankle. Before my accident I could still walk short distances on the flat. I had surgery in which pins and plates were inserted. I had hoped I would be able to regain my mobility but it became apparent that this would be impossible. Once home and in a difficult place in my life, I applied to Canine Partners. They are a brilliant charity that provides assistance dogs to those with physical disabilities.

Once I had applied, I was invited to an assessment day at their centre in West Sussex. I met some incredible dogs and did some task work to see how a potential assistance dog could help me. I also had an Occupational Therapist come out to visit my home. She checked that my garden and home environment were suitable. I was then added to the waiting list and Canine Partners would start the process of finding me a suitable dog. They try to find a dog that fits in with your lifestyle and the tasks you need help with. For instance I required a tall dog to pass me items because I am quite high up in my electric wheelchair.

Eventually I got the much-anticipated call from advanced trainer Chrissie to say they had found me a potential dog. I was invited to meet Petworth and it really was love at first sight. We seemed to click straight away and I really liked how unusual he looked. Petworth is a curly coated retriever Labrador cross. He has extremely long legs and a lovely curly coat. We discussed the tasks I would like him to do. The following day, Chrissie phoned to check that I wanted to go ahead with Petworth. Of course, I said yes.

The final stage involved going on a two-week training course and learning how to work with Petworth. I have now had Petworth for over two years and I couldn’t be happier.

3. How does Petworth assist you and how has he changed your life?

Petworth can assist me in so many ways, providing me with a degree of independence away from carers. He picks things up when I drop them (I do this very often due to my reduced dexterity). He gets help when I need it; he goes and finds my Mum. He brings the post to me when it arrives. He opens and closes doors around the house and also pushes automatic door buttons when I’m out. He turns on and off the lights in my room and bathroom. He assists me with taking my coat/jumper off and shoes and socks. He fetches my phone for me if I leave it in a different room. He is able to open and close cupboards so at feeding time he fetches his bowl for me. He also helps me tidy up by putting his toys away in a box. When we go shopping he can help getting items off the shelf. Once we are finished shopping, Petworth can help me pay and gives my purse to the cashier.

Having just written down the things Petworth does for me, I’m quite amazed. He really loves to help me but it isn’t all about work, he still gets time to be a normal dog. We both enjoy going to the park or going on a long walk. One of my favourite things is teaching Petworth a new task; he is a very quick learner. As my condition is progressive I can train Petworth to do more tasks that will benefit me in the future.

Petworth has changed my life greatly. In many ways he has flipped it upside down. Before I had him I was too scared to leave my house. I was always worried I would drop my phone or keys. I always felt like all eyes were on my wheelchair and me. I didn’t have a social life and I became very isolated. Now I feel like a different person as Petworth gives me so much confidence. People are more interested in Petworth than my chair. He is a fab talking point and people love to ask me questions. I don’t have to rely so heavily on carers. Most importantly he has given me a reason to get up every morning. He looks after me and I look after him.

4. What, If any, are the challenges of having an assistance dog?

This probably sounds cheesy but I don’t think it is a challenge. Petworth really has enhanced my life and opened up many doors…literally!

The main hurdle we face is good old British weather – come rain or shine Petworth needs a walk. This means wrapping up warm, getting my waterproofs on and embracing whatever Mother Nature has to throw at us.

I was initially worried that I would struggle looking after a dog due to fatigue, but in reality Petworth gives me more energy by completing his tasks. I am responsible for exercising, grooming, feeding and playing. This has helped me maintain some muscle strength and it has given me a purpose and a sense of achievement.

5. What would be your advice for others who are considering getting an assistance dog?

Go for it! Having Petworth has completely changed my life and an assistance dog could do the same for you. I know some people think I’m too disabled or I’m not disabled enough but I still recommend applying. I would try to speak to somebody who already has an assistance dog to see what is involved and if it’s for you. The best advice I can give is be patient. It is not a quick process and the charity waiting lists are long at the moment, but it really is worth the wait.

*All images courtesy of Harriet Butler


I would like to thank Harriet for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly.

For more information about assistance dogs, visit the Canine Partners website.

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Life Update | Hospital Admissions & Disability

Thursday 8th March marked International Women’s Day 2018. For me, it was spent in hospital (Russells Hall, Dudley) undergoing minor surgery. Could be worse, I suppose!

Due to the fact I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy (a muscle-wasting condition), people are often horrified when I tell them how many general anaesthetics I’ve endured throughout my life (at least 10 – honestly, I’ve lost count!).

Although it is obviously best avoided, I’ve personally never encountered any problems or complications as a result of general anaesthesia.

I’m a big believer in knowing your own body and what you, as an individual, are able to withstand. When undergoing any form of surgery, communication is key – particularly when you have a disability.


A Few Tips:

Go prepared: Take all relevant documentation to your pre-operative assessment(s), including names and contacts for all the medical professionals you see regularly.

Meet with your surgeon(s) and anaesthetist: It is not always common practice to see your anaesthetist prior to surgery, but in my case it is essential. Explain your specific requirements and concerns, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Ensure everything is in place prior to your admission date: If, for example, you use a Bi-pap or C-pap machine (non-invasive ventilation), tell your medical team – nurses included. Make sure they know your settings and have your NIV machine ready for you to use post-operative.


I usually discharge myself on the day of surgery or, as soon as I know I’m well enough to manage at home (again, I hear you gasp). Anyone with a disability who has spent time as an inpatient will appreciate why I prefer to escape as soon as physically possible.

Don’t get me wrong – I cannot fault the care and conscientiousness of the doctors and nurses. I am a big supporter of the NHS and frankly, I would not be here today without it.

However, the sad fact is, hospitals in the UK are not equipped for those of us with disabilities and complex care needs. Trust me – having been admitted many times, to various hospitals, for various reasons – I am well versed!

On this particular occasion, it was necessary for me to stay in hospital overnight. My Mom was with me all day but went home at around 7pm when it became apparent that I was unfit to leave. This essentially left me alone and stranded in bed (one that didn’t work!), unable to move, reach or sit myself up.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t expect Mom to stay with me all night, in order to assist with my physical care needs. She herself has recently had a full knee replacement and was exhausted.

After a long, uncomfortable night spent clock-watching, I was incredibly relieved when my folks returned at 11am on Friday to take me home. My home is set up for my care needs. Unfortunately, hospitals are not.


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Interview | ‘The Undateables’ Steve Carruthers

“It is a life-changing experience.        Embrace it!”


The Undateables is a Channel 4 TV show featuring people with a variety of disabilities, all of whom are looking to find love.

Steve Carruthers, who has Crouzon syndrome (a genetic condition affecting the shape of the face and head), was a participant on series two, back in 2013. Though romance did not blossom with his date, the experience gave him much needed confidence.

Following his appearance, Steve – now 36, from Manchester – soon met the love of his life Vicky, through social media. Vicky had in fact seen Steve on the show and decided to contact him.

The Undateables screened Steve’s romantic proposal and the couple later married in 2015.

1. Steve, why did you apply to The Undateables and, what reservations did you have?

I initially applied for a different show called ‘Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice’. As a result, I was approached to appear on series one of ‘The Undateables’, but declined as it had never been on and I didn’t get the gist of the show. After series one ended, I was approached again but this time it was by my good friend Adam Pearson, who worked with the team to find participants for the show. He convinced me to give it a chance as he said it would help me with my confidence and outlook as I had a negative outlook on life after the loss of two of my siblings. I was a bit reserved and concerned that after being on the show, more people would make fun of my appearance. But, in doing the show, my outlook changed to a positive one and allowed me to helped people.

2. How were you treated throughout the production process?

The team were incredibly nice and understanding. Everything was treated with care and compassion.

3. What response have you received following your appearances?

Like all things with TV, there are negative people who see disability as something to mock and joke about. But the positives outweighed the negatives in a huge way. People are so kind and understanding. I found that it [the show] helped educate people about disability. It also helps with how we perceive ourselves and how society perceives us to.

4. The show has been accused of being insensitive and exploitative. The title in particular is widely criticised. What do you think?

The show itself everything you see. It is exactly how dates are – you have moments of silence, awkwardness and moments of hope. The shows titles show cupid shooting the [prefix] ‘Un’ off, leaving the word ‘dateables’. The point is to prove we are all dateable, and that we [disabled people] have the same experiences on dates as everyone else does.

5. What would you say to anyone who is considering applying to the show?

My advice to anyone going on or applying for the show is go into it with an open mind. There will be those who will say [derogatory] things, but overall the positives more than outweigh the negatives. It is a life-changing experience. Embrace it! The positive message you’re putting out helps others as well as yourself. The impact the show’s had has given so many people confidence. Those who watch the show have gained so much more understanding of different disabilities too.


I’d like to thank Steve for taking the time to speak with me.

You can watch his original appearance on the show here.

Images courtesy of The Undateables and The Sun


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Wheelchair Services ♿

Following on from my last blog post, I’m happy to report that Friday’s appointment with wheelchair services (Wychbold, Droitwich) was surprisingly beneficial.

Admittedly, I had low expectations based on previous experiences. But the occupational therapist (OT) I met with was extremely helpful and conscientious.

I now have a long list of information and various options to consider.


I went prepared with some notes, outlining my needs.

Thus far, I have looked at various wheelchairs online and test drove the Quickie Salsa M2 Mini and the Quickie Jive M (both by Sunrise Medical). Sadly, neither of these chairs met my requirements.

The Salsa M2 Mini is an ideal size but not so great outdoors (compared to my current Quantum 600). The Jive M was just too big for my home.


Me in my current Quantum 600 powered wheelchair

Whilst at the appointment, I was shown the Invacare TDX. Before it was even measured, I could see it is far too big, more so than my current chair, and wouldn’t fit around my home.

So that’s one more crossed off the list!


Voucher vs NHS wheelchair?

The last time I approached wheelchair services was 10+ years ago. That appointment was brief and frankly a waste of time!

I was offered a voucher with a value of no more than a few hundred pounds. A lot of money you may think. But when you consider powered wheelchairs cost from £5000 upwards, (between £10-20k is more accurate), a few hundred quid doesn’t go far.

The only alternative to this was one, very basic, very inadequate NHS wheelchair – I suspect unsuitable for most people.

Thankfully since then, things seem to have improved greatly (around here, anyway).

My current options are:

– A voucher with a prescriptive value of approx £2000

– Accept one of the approved NHS chairs (none of which feature the rise function that I need)

– Accept a more compact mid-wheel drive (MWD) NHS chair for indoor use, and privately purchase a second wheelchair specifically for outdoor use (worth considering as I live rurally)

Right now I think my best bet is to take the voucher and choose my own wheelchair. Mainly because I do require both the rise and tilt functions. The NHS will only approve the latter.


What now?

– Attend NAIDEX (April 25-26th). I will be able to see many different wheelchairs and discuss my options with specialists. Trust me you need to see and try them before committing to anything. You can’t base a decision on images and information on a computer screen.

– Investigate options I had not previously heard of, including: Ottobock and the YOU-Q Luca by Sunrise Medical.

– Contact Sunrise Medical directly and ask them to visit my home with demo wheelchairs to view and test-drive.

– Ask Sunrise Medical for a list of reputable dealers.


Once again, I will keep you updated of any developments.

Thanks for reading!

Wheeling Through Life | A Brief History

From birth, I have lived with the rare condition Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy.

It is a progressive, muscle-wasting condition caused by mutations in the COL6A1, COL6A2 and COL6A3 genes.

It is typically inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern (both parents are carriers of the mutated gene). However, in rare cases it can also be inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern (where only one parent has the affected mutated gene).



It frustrates me that so few people, medical professionals included, have heard of Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. In my experience, those who are familiar with muscular dystrophy tend to associate it with it Duchenne (the most well-known form).

Many people look at me now – a non-ambulant wheelchair user – and assume that I have always been this way (ie. unable to walk). This is not the case.

In order to raise awareness and familiarity of UCMD, here are a few photos of me growing up with this sadly unrecognised condition.


Above and below: My first wheelchair (manual). Prior to this I used what we, as a family, referred to a “buggy”. At this stage, I was able to walk short distances whilst wearing leg ‘splints’.

Below: In this photo I am around 11 years old. I loved this wheelchair (a manual, Quickie) as it was a sleek, black and purple design.

At age 10, I became unable to weight-bear. My muscles were simply unable to support my growing frame. It was therefore important to find a wheelchair that was comfortable enough to use all day long, whilst also looking half decent!

As you can see, the push handles on this chair were higher than average as all members of my family are tall. You wouldn’t think so, looking at me would you!

I always disliked the unusually high push handles (see above) as they stuck out above my head and were an aesthetic distraction.

Below: My next wheelchair – again a manual. I was unable to self-propel due to elbow contractures and muscle weakness.

Throughout my school years, I always used a manual wheelchair. This is one of the main reasons I hated school so much, since I was reliant on others to push me around. Wherever I was put, I stayed. It was incredibly frustrating.

Below: My Quantum F45 powered wheelchair (this model is no longer in production).

A relatively light-weight, rear-wheel drive with a narrow base, this chair served me well for many years.

This was in fact my second power chair. My first was a Jazzy Pride (front-wheel drive), which was great outdoors. Unfortunately I can’t find any photos to show you.

My Jazzy Pride wheelchair was purchased through public fundraising when I was 10-11 years old. At that time, there was just no way my parents could afford the cost of a powered wheelchair. Our local wheelchair services could not (or rather, would not) provide me with one.

Below: This is my current wheelchair – a Quantum 600, which I have had for almost 8 years. It is mid-wheel drive and VERY heavy!

I have to say – though it is a solid, sturdy chair – I wouldn’t replace it with the same make/model. Unlike my previous powered wheelchairs, it has let me down unexpectedly on various occasions and required quite a few pricey repairs!

It is rapidly falling to bits (literally) and most concerningly, the electrics are now failing. For this reason, I am currently on the lookout for a new chair.

These days, I primarily use a powered wheelchair rather than a manual chair, as it allows me greater independance and freedom of mobility. However, I do also own a Küschall Ultra-Light manual chair, mainly as a backup.

Me in my current Quantum 600 powered wheelchair

If you have found this blog post useful, I would be grateful if you could share to help spread awareness of Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy.

Thank you!

My Search for a New Wheelchair

My Quantum 600 powered wheelchair, which has been my legs for almost 8 years, is gradually falling to pieces. I have patched it up no end with DIY repairs, and attempted to keep it going for as long as possible. But the electrics are now failing and so the chair is becoming unreliable. Consequently, I have no option but to start the search for a replacement.

As the wheelchair-users out there will know, this is never a simple task! It is a BIG decision, not least because wheelchairs are so ridiculously expensive. More so than a new car!

Throughout my life, I have had no choice but to privately fund all my wheelchairs – both manual and powered – since those offered by wheelchair services are wholly inadequate for my needs (and I suspect, most people’s).

So before committing to a purchase, I need to be absolutely certain that the wheelchair I opt for will be the right one for me.


My new wheelchair must:

– Have rise and tilt
– Be as compact as possible for indoor use
– Be durable outdoors as I live rurally


I have an appointment with my local wheelchair services on Friday 16th February. So I’m hoping they will be able to offer some useful advice and guidance, along with a voucher towards the cost.

A representative from Motus Medical has already visited my home to demo two mid-wheel drive (MWD) chairs:

– The Quickie Salsa M2 Mini
– The Quickie Jive M

I found the Quickie Salsa M2 Mini to be an ideal size (the base is only 52cm wide, with a turning circle of 110cm). However, when tested outdoors over gravel and uneven terrain, it did not perform particularly well.

The Quickie Jive M was too large for the contours of my home (overall width 62-66cm). Furthermore, I felt that it didn’t compare well with my current Quantum 600 in terms of outdoor ability.

So that’s two tried, tested and crossed off the list!

I will continue to keep you updated, following Friday’s appointment.

Me in my current Quantum 600 powered wheelchair

Interviewed by Disabled Living

I was recently contacted by the lovely Natasha Bolger, from Disabled Living, who expressed an interest in interviewing me.

To read the full interview and find out more about me and how I am affected by Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, click here.


Below are a few screen shots from the interview…


Thank you so much to Natasha and everyone at Disabled Living!

Interview | YouTuber Shelby Lynch

20 year-old Shelby Lynch is an up-and-coming YouTuber from England, who happens to have a muscle-wasting condition similar to myself.

She was recently kind enough to chat with me about her disability, life as a YouTuber and her involvement with the Missguided #KEEPONBEINGYOU campaign.


1. Could you please tell us about your disability and how it affects you?

My disability is called SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). This causes my muscles to become weaker over time. I have a curve in my spine (scoliosis) and am unable to walk, so I use a powered wheelchair to get around. I also need to use a ventilator 24/7 to help me breathe.

2. What have you found to be the biggest challenges of living with your disability?

The biggest challenge of having a disability is having to rely on other people to do things for you. My daily life is affected – I need help with simple things like getting around, eating and personal care. I’d love to be able to do my own hair and makeup.

Also, not having as much independence as someone my age should. Independance for me is key.

3. What, if any, do you feel are the positives to having a disability?

There are a lot of perks! For me, the biggest positive that comes with having a disability is getting to skip the queue for certain things. Sometimes I can get free access to certain places too. But then others do take the piss and charge disabled people more than they would an able-bodied person.

4. Can you please explain why you decided to become a Youtuber?

I wouldn’t say I’m a successful YouTuber but if I’m helping people in a certain way then that’s cool. I started watching YouTube around four years ago. I thought it looked really fun so I decided to make a channel too. On my channel I talk about fashion, beauty, lifestyle and my disability.

Really, I just want to have fun with it to be honest. I want to show people that I’m just a regular 20 year old who enjoys doing what other people like to do. Whether it’s going to concerts or hanging out with friends.

5. Do you consider yourself to be an inspiration?

No, I don’t consider myself to be an inspiration unless I have done something to impact people. People usually call me an inspiration just because I’m disabled but to me, that’s not right.

6. Can you talk about your involvement with the Missguided campaign, and what it means to you?

I saw their campaign on Instagram and really liked the fact they were showing different types of people. So, I took a picture of myself wearing one of their jumpers, and used the hashtag #KEEPONBEINGYOU.

Only a couple of hours later they had reposted my picture. It was so overwhelming receiving so many nice comments from people I didn’t even know. Then somebody from Missguided contacted me, offering to send some clothes, and asking if I would like do a mini photo shoot and video for their campaign which felt like a dream!

Working with them was absolutely incredible! When they asked me if I would join their campaign I was over the moon. It was such a great start to the week. I was a bit nervous as I have never done anything like this before.

But Missguided is a brand that I actually love. And I feel like their clothes are different to any other fashion retailer. The clothes make me feel confident and cool, so getting to work with them was a dream come true.

In addition, it’s great that they aren’t afraid to break barriers by showing some diversity in their campaign. This is something I personally respect so much.

In my caption for my picture I spoke about how disabled people aren’t often seen as pretty or sexy because of their disability, and that’s not the case. We should feel empowered no matter what.

– “Keep On Being You means to be confident in your own skin, and not letting anyone in life tell you that you can’t do anything.”

I hope they ask me to work with them again as it was so much fun and they are certainly leading the way in showing diversity as a fashion brand.

Find out more about Shelby’s involvement with the Missguided #KEEPONBEINGYOU campaign here.


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          I’d like to thank Shelby for taking the time to speak with me!

Muscular Dystrophy | A Guide for Parents

*Disclaimer* Please be aware, this is in no way an official, definitive guide for parents of children with neuromuscular conditions. Here I offer support and advice along with my personal perspective, having lived with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy for 29 years.


About Me

– I am a UK based disability blogger
– I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy
– Born in 1988, I am now 29 years old
– Born with ‘floppiness’ and dislocated hips
– Slow rate of progression: I didn’t start to walk until 19 months old and ‘bum-shuffled’ until then
– I was able to walk short distances, wearing custom-made leg splints, until age 10
– I would fall over a lot as a child
– I could never walk up or down steps or stairs
– I am now completely non-ambulant and use a powered wheelchair
– I have contractures in all joints
– I have a severe ‘S’ shaped scoliosis (curvature of the spine), which has not been surgically corrected
– Over the years, my condition has deteriorated
– As an adult, my primary concern is respiratory-related
– Education: I attended mainstream school, achieved A-Levels and a degree with Honours.


My Advice

I would first like to say, a life with muscular dystrophy need not be an unfulfilled life! Many people with neuromuscular conditions lead full and active lives, whilst pursuing demanding careers.

Though severely disabling, muscular dystrophy is not synonymous with suffering or a poor quality of life.


Diagnosis

It can, of course, be shocking and extremely distressing to learn your child has a muscle-wasting condition. In some cases there may be a family history, whereas for others like me it could be completely unexpected and unfamiliar.

I am the only member of my family with any form of muscle-wasting condition. So when I was initially diagnosed, aged 4, with congenital muscular dystrophy following a muscle biopsy, my parents were venturing into the unknown.

The year was 1992, there was no Internet, no Google, few resources and more to the point – they had never even heard of muscular dystrophy!

It may be helpful to talk to other parents of children with a similar condition. If this is something you think would be beneficial for you, ask your care advisor or neuromuscular consultant who will assist.

If you are not ready to speak to other families, remember this is always an option if you change your mind in the future.


How and when to tell your child

There is no right or wrong answer. Only you can decide what is best for your child. It is also important to consider siblings, as they should be included in any discussions you have as a family. However, I would strongly advise against telling siblings more about the condition than the affected child. Any information you choose to share with your children should be fair and equal, regardless of the gap in age.

When deciding if, when and how to tell your child of their diagnosis, consider:

– Their age
– Their own awareness of their disability                                                                       – Emotional maturity
– Your ability to answer any questions they might have

From a personal perspective, I recommend an open and honest policy from the very beginning.

I cannot recall any formal discussion or disclosure of my condition, whereby my parents sat and explained the ins and outs of it all to me and my older brothers.

I was officially diagnosed with congenital muscular dystrophy at age 4 (specified as Ullrich CMD many years later), but I was always aware of my disability. I recognised that I was different from my peers – I was unable to walk, run and climb steps. I also looked different – I was very thin as a child, I had contractures and scoliosis causing asymmetry of the torso.

My parents told us that I have something called muscular dystrophy, meaning I have much weaker muscles than other children. At that age, this was enough knowledge for me.

For many years, when other children would ask the inevitable question, ‘what’s wrong with you?’
I would simply answer, ‘I’ve got muscular dystrophy so I can’t walk like you’.

Whenever and however you decide to approach this, I would urge you to emphasise above all else that your child is loved and supported by you and your family. Sometimes the comfort of a loving hug from your parents is all the reassurance you want and need.

Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy

Infancy

Do your research: Unlike when I was a child, these days there are many reliable resources of information. Of course, ask any medical professionals your child is seeing, including consultants, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. However, I will say that not all children with the same form of muscular dystrophy will experience exactly the same symptoms or at the same rate. For this reason, I recommend talking to those directly affected, such as other parents and adults with muscle-wasting conditions who, like me, have a lifetime of experiences to draw from.
Always trust your instincts! As the saying goes, a mother knows best. This has certainly proved true in my case. My mother, noticing my delayed progression as a baby, sought medical help and was told she was an “over-reactive mother”. Thankfully, she persisted and met with a neuromuscular specialist who almost immediately identified my condition.
– Ensure your child receives the Flu vaccine EVERY year, as well as the pneumonia vaccination. You, as primary caregivers, will also be eligible for the Flu vaccine – take it!


Starting School

Some children are diagnosed well before they reach nursery age, whilst others like me, will have already started school when they learn they have a muscle-wasting condition.

– Starting school can be daunting for any child: Being parted from their parents, away from home and surrounded by lots of unfamiliar faces. But for a child with a disability like muscular dystrophy, this transition can be even more challenging.
– Particularly in this day and age, there is no reason why a child with a muscle-wasting condition shouldn’t attend mainstream school. However, you must consider your child as an individual and decide whether or not you feel this would be best for them. Indeed, your child may have a preference. Some would rather attend a school for special educational needs.
– I suggest making several visits to any nurseries or schools you have shortlisted. Check that everywhere is fully accessible. One visit is not enough as we often forget to ask certain questions and fail to spot things on first impressions.
– It is essential to ensure staff are fully aware of your child’s needs and abilities. Meet with the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo) well in advance and if possible, meet and introduce your child to their new teacher and *teaching assistant/support worker (*where applicable). This will help them feel more comfortable and confident when their first day of school arrives.
– Ask your child’s physiotherapist and/or occupational therapist to visit the school and meet with staff to share their knowledge and expertise.
– Be positive, be optimistic, be encouraging. BUT don’t make promises you can’t keep: As your child grows and interacts with other children, they will become increasingly aware of their differences. This will inevitably lead to questions. They may ask why they can’t stand, walk or run like their friends. Furthermore, if your child has a progressive form of muscular dystrophy, they may ask you if their symptoms will get worse as they get older.

For instance, I was able to walk short distances until the age of 10. We were never told if I would continue to do so as I grew. Therefore, I would often ask, ‘will I always be able to walk or will I have to use a wheelchair?’

I appreciate why many parents would be reluctant to overshare and reveal what the future may hold in terms of deterioration, in fear of scaring their child. However, I feel strongly that it is important to be honest and unambiguous. If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know. Don’t try to comfort your child by telling them it will all be okay and things will not get worse. Knowledge and preparation is power!


Teen Years

– For most children with muscular dystrophy, the biggest changes occur during puberty.
– Growth spurts put extra strain on weakening muscles.
– If able to weight-bear, your child could lose this ability resulting in the need for a wheelchair.
– It is likely that your child will accept having to use a wheelchair more than you. Children are very adaptable. From personal experience, I can tell you that using a wheelchair is a great relief compared to exerting all your strength, energy and reserves on standing and walking. A wheelchair offers mobility and freedom. So please keep this in mind.
– Growth also leads to contractures becoming more severe. Regular physiotherapy (ie. stretching) will help maintain flexibility and movement.
– If untreated, spinal curvature (scoliosis) will increase resulting in asymmetry of the torso, a tilted pelvis, pressure sores and discomfort.
– Scoliosis, along with muscle deterioration, impacts on respiratory function. Should your child feel overly tired, nap during the day, or experience regular headaches, particularly on first waking, you must see a specialist respiratory consultant. It might be necessary to introduce noninvasive ventilation nocturnally.
Noninvasive ventilation (NIV) comes in the form of either a CPAP or BiPAP machine (usually the latter).
Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP): a face mask is worn (many different styles are available) and air is delivered from a machine through a tube to support breathing.
– Other respiratory equipment your teenager may benefit from, especially when ill: Nebuliser and cough assist machine (seek advice and information from your respiratory consultant and respiratory physiotherapist).

BiPAP Machine
NIV Face Mask

 


Other Family Members

Some forms of muscular dystrophy are inherited. This can obviously be a concern if relatives are planning families of their own.

A few years ago, my brother and his wife decided they wanted to have children. Because of my condition, he asked his GP to refer them to a genetic counsellor. They took with them a copy of my medical record.

In their case, it was determined that my brother is highly likely to be a carrier, while his wife is highly unlikely. Once pregnant, they were offered a test which involved inserting a needle into the developing embryo to ascertain if the baby would have muscular dystrophy. They decided against this due to the invasive nature.

I’m happy to report they now have a happy and healthy baby boy.


How to cope

As a parent, it is understandable that you will focus all your thoughts and energy into your children. Raising a child with muscular dystrophy brings with it many more challenges and emotional turmoil. This can have a huge affect on you, your health and relationships. It is therefore crucial to take care of yourself too.

Remember, it is okay to cry, scream and shout! There will be times you struggle, lose your patience and indeed you will have to fight your child’s corner in different situations.

It’s good to talk: whether you choose to confide in relatives, friends, fellow parents of disabled children, or healthcare professionals – don’t bottle up your concerns and frustrations. This will ultimately have a negative effect on your wellbeing and your family.

Make time for yourself: ‘what time?!’  – I know, I know. I appreciate that caring for a child with any disability is a full-time job. But you must allow yourself some form of relief. Even if it is just dedicating yourself to an hour or two with friends for coffee each week. You need space. Your child needs space. It will be good for all of you – trust me!


If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment or contact me directly. I am more than happy to talk privately.

If you like this blog post, I would be grateful if you would share so that others may learn from it.

Thank you!

My First Ceiling Hoist

As some of you may know, my very first ceiling track hoist was *finally* fitted on Monday 11th December.

I now have a straight track in my bedroom and a separate H-frame in my ensuite bathroom.

Why I need a ceiling hoist

I am 29 and completely non-ambulant due to Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. Being rather petite, I have always been manually transferred (yes, lifted by family and carers) rather than hoisted. This method has always been preferable since it’s much quicker and frankly less faff. But, we’re all getting older and more frail.

I live with my parents who are both in their 60s. They are my primary source of support, though I do employ a carer part-time. My mother underwent a full knee replacement in August 2017, and is therefore limited in how much she is able to help me. Consequently, we have reached a stage where a ceiling hoist is a necessity.

A long and frustrating process!

Back in October 2016, Mom was told she needed a full knee replacement. The following Spring, my only carer announced she would be leaving within the next few months to pursue a career as a paramedic. With this in mind, I contacted my local community occupatinal therapy team to request an assessment. I was told they’re vastly understaffed and, with an extensive waiting list, I would need to be in a terminal condition in order to be seen. I appreciate their predicament, I really do, but I was unwilling to be fobbed off so easily.

I was instructed, over the phone by an OT I had never met, to “camp out”, meaning I should wash, dress and be toileted on my bed. Yes, for a prolonged and indefinite period of time, I should go without a shower and simply not wash my hair. (Due to my physical limitations and my wheelchair, there’s no way I could wash my hair over the sink).

Disgusted at her casual disregard, I asked my neuromuscular consultant to issue a letter of support. On receipt of this, an OT suddenly found time to visit me in my home for an assessment. Following this, representatives from Prism Medical and TPG DisableAids attended separately to advise, measure up and draw plans. Both rep’s then submitted quotes to the purse holder at County Council who, of course, approved the cheapest option.

NB: A portable hoist was trialled but proved unusable with the layout of my room and the type of bath in situ.

Prism Medical

We were expecting Prism to arrive at 9am on 24th October 2017, as arranged. Having waited over an over with no sign of anyone, I called only to be told they weren’t coming because of a “technical issue”.

To cut a long story short, Prism claimed they couldn’t connect the track from my bedroom to that in my ensuite bathroom. This is despite consulting with occupational therapists and agreeing to do the job. Prism also claim they left telephone messages for both myself and the OT’s, on the previous Friday, to inform us that they wouldn’t be attending. Neither I, nor the community OT’s received any messages. I call bullshit!

Dad even removed the partition above the bathroom door in preparation.

Later, I learnt that Prism have similarly disappointed several others, resulting in formal complaints being issued against them. So when the purse holder at County Council told me she would renegotiate with Prism rather than approve funding for TPG to carry out the work, I insisted otherwise.

Having to fight for your rights and basic needs is, unfortunately, very much part and parcel of having a disability. ‘Tell, don’t ask!’ This is my motto. In my experience, if you are not clued-up and assertive, those in authority simply fob you off.

TPG DisableAids

Thankfully, Funding was approved after a different OT, accompanied by the rep from TPG, visited to discuss and re-evaluate the situation.

Rather than trying to connect the single rail in the bedroom to the H-frame in the ensuite bathroom, it was decided that two separate hoists would be best.

My carer had by then handed in her notice and would be leaving at the end of the month. I was seriously starting to worry the hoist would not be in place before Christmas.

But much to my relief, TPG (who, compared to Prism, were infinitely more professional and efficient throughout) booked in for the 4th December.

Then, just my luck, we were hit by the worst snow in 7 years! It was like flipping Narnia.

I tried to remain optimistic though in reality I knew there was no way TPG would be able to make the journey from Hereford. And they didn’t.

So, it was third time lucky, on the following Monday that the long-awaited ceiling hoist was installed. I no longer need to worry about hiring new carers as lifting is not an issue. Furthermore, the pressure is off Mom – literally! And, the thing I am perhaps the most happy about – my dealings with community OTs and the County Council are over.

For now at least…


(Apologies for the poor quality of the images. All were taken by myself on a Samsung S5!)