This is scary. What to say to you that will make you want to work with me to improve your life? I guess the simple answer is the best – the story of what gets me up in the morning to do this.
After five years working in advertising and marketing, I decided in 2004 that a desk job wasn't for me – selling stuff that I essentially didn't care about was bad on so many levels. I wanted job satisfaction, but more importantly, I wanted a sense of positively contributing to society. After scratching my head, searching my soul and completing some aptitude tests, I discovered Occupational Therapy (OT). At the time I had very little idea what OT's do, but some research and a little OT work-experience convinced me to take a giant leap of faith and apply to do the four-year uni course. I was 24 years old. Most of my family at the time thought I was mad; friends said it was an early mid-life crisis. With the benefit of hindsight it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
That decision came while living overseas, when a planned trip through Africa with friends was cut short after my parents became ill. Within a month of returning home, my Mum had a massive stroke – at the age of 60 – and life changed dramatically. My Dad already suffered from depression and my Mum’s stroke was a massive challenge, meaning many of the decisions about her care fell to me, an only-child. Family and friends – not least Dad – provided so much help through this period, but by necessity I gained first-hand experience about the services available for stroke patients in NSW through public health.
Mum didn’t qualify for rehabilitation, so we were advised to put her into a nursing home – a minefield at best. Fortunately, a wonderful elderly patient in Mum's hospital room gave me some unexpected advice: “Don't book any appointments when you have to go into the nursing homes,” she said. “Go in at about 10am and ask for the nurse in charge. If the place smells like faeces, don’t put her in there.” This startled me at the time, but she was right. Eventually I found a care facility and had Mum placed there in 2004. She died 2011 years later, spending her last days in a nursing home. What I have learned since has made me sad and angry and sure this could have been otherwise.
We had good times during those years. Despite not being able to use her left arm or leg, Mum still had a brilliant memory, and a cheeky personality that endeared her to staff and residents alike. For example, she befriend Joe, an Italian man who could walk but couldn't remember things so well. When the nurses left the hands-free phone unattended, Joe would get it and bring it to Mum, who had memorised Joe's family contact numbers. Joe would have a long chat on the phone, and then Mum would call her long-distance relatives. This routine lasted quite a while, until the phone bills finally caught up with the both of them. The staff – if not the administrators – loved Mum and Joe for it. Thank you to all those who understood them.
While this unfolded I completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of Western Sydney. I was fascinated with so many new things, but particularly neurology, not only because of what Mum was going through but also because it’s just so bloody interesting.
After graduation I started work at a large metropolitan hospital in the neurology and neurosurgery wards. I learnt so much. I met people who, literally, had half a brain – and were still able to have a conversation. It blew my mind. I would talk to this guy and just think, “Wow, how is this possible.” Textbooks just couldn't explain it. I would look at the scans, look back at him and just smile. Despite all that we think we know about medicine and neurology, there is always someone who can defy it all. This was my first real experience of Neuroplasticity.
My then-manager at the hospital was also extremely interested in Neuroplasticty, and far more widely read than myself. He put me onto Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself. From there I began applying the concepts of neuroplasticity to my work. To learn more, I attended the Taub Clinic at the University of Alabama and completed the Constraint Induced Movement Therapy course in 2014. There I met Edward Taub – a lovely and fascinating man, a true old school gentleman who, at the age of 80, is still a driving force at the clinic. Through his inspiration, I completed more neuroplastic intervention courses and applied them as best I could in public health.
The more I learnt, the more frustrated I became with not being able to deliver this treatment – in full – through public health. I mean, you don’t give someone a half-dose of medication and expect the same result as a full course, do you? So why would you expect a half dose of therapy to achieve the same results as a full one. All the evidence currently available says you have to give complete, intense therapy to achieve any neuroplastic change. This doesn't mean just one or two hours a day, but four to six hours for one person to reorganise their brain. Hospitals aren’t built to deliver these types of interventions.
All I really want to do is deliver the benefits of Constraint Induced Movement Therapy and related interventions as they need to be delivered. I don’t want to dilute that for any reasons beyond my control. This treatment works, and I want to make it work for you – I didn’t come up with it, but I am standing on the shoulders of the giants who did, and, without being silly about it, I am good at it.
It’s not easy – there is no magic pill. I wish there was. I’m not promising a complete recovery – I can’t deliver that and I haven’t seen any method that can. But you can make huge improvements. It’s going to be hard – patients that have done this with me say it’s some of the hardest rehab training they have ever done. They also say the results more than justify the work.
You will be challenged. We’ll probably shed a few tears together as well.
It’s emotional stuff, but I’ll make it worth it if you will.