Penny’s story: Reaching new heights
7 March 2018
In 2011, Penny was on holiday in Snowdonia with her husband George when they were hit by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. She sustained both complete and incomplete spinal cord fractures at levels C6 and T4/5 respectively. Penny was airlifted from the scene to Bangor Hospital and then 36 hours later, she was taken to the Midland Centre for Spinal Injuries (MCSI) in Oswestry where she spent four and a half months in rehabilitation.
This life-changing event had a number of implications for the couple. Penny, aged 68, says: “In addition to my spinal cord injury, George sustained injuries to his right arm which he now has virtually no use of. As we were both podiatrists running our own practices, this meant that we were forcibly retired. This has made life very difficult financially.”
As well as money troubles, Penny could no longer live in their home as it was completely inaccessible.
“Trying to find a new place was hard. We were even told that I might have to go into a care home. We eventually found somewhere and moved out of our house into a one-bedroom flat. Those were tough and anxious times.”
Penny was still a patient at the MCSI when she first met Back Up through one of our volunteer wheelchair skills trainers, Stuart. “I was very frightened when I first used a manual chair. I was scared of falling out or that I was going to knock into everything. Stuart was just brilliant – he was so reassuring and encouraging.”
Connecting with other people who knew exactly what she was going through was particularly important to Penny, especially when she was feeling very low.
“Being stuck within four walls took its toll on me. Before my injury, I had been very active and was working full-time. Not being able to do those things anymore and missing out on the social side of my work was really challenging,” Penny says.
After speaking to Stuart one day, he suggested that she might benefit from having a mentor. Penny’s daughter, Jenny, also persuaded her that talking to someone could be helpful and so she reached out to our mentoring team.
“Through the Back Up mentoring service, I was put in touch with Julie, a long-standing volunteer mentor. She’s someone who really knows what life with a spinal cord injury is like and she says it like it is. There’s no way to gloss over some of the less pleasant areas connected to having a spinal cord injury but Julie’s attitude is ‘let’s face them and see what we can do about them’. She’s incredible.”
After her mentoring sessions came to an end, Penny and George went to Snowdonia in 2012 to support the Snowdon Push. The event is Back Up’s biggest fundraising challenge and involves teams, including one member who uses a wheelchair, working together to reach the top of Mount Snowdon.
She enjoyed heading back to Snowdonia to support everyone taking part in the challenge, however, Penny had no idea that she’d be signing herself up to take part a few years later.
“At last year’s Back Up Ball auction, I won a long weekend’s use of an all-terrain powered wheelchair. I used it over the holidays when our grandchildren were visiting and we went for a trek in the woods near our new fully accessible home. Even though it was terribly muddy and I ended up going through a stream, it was amazing and I really liked the opportunities it gave me. George and I decided that we should get me my own all-terrain wheelchair. I was told that it would arrive just in time for the Push so when a friend said he’d put together a team to go with me, I found myself saying yes!”
Penny is looking forward to taking on the new challenge, especially as her team will include her three children, Andrew, David and Jenny. However, more than anything, she hopes to raise money and awareness for Back Up because of the support she received when she needed it the most.
“Back Up just made everything a lot easier. It’s incredible to just be able to say “Listen, I’ve got this problem, what do you know about it?” and feel assured that the person on the other end of the phone will know what you’re talking about. It’s the fact that they’ve actually lived it that makes all the difference.
“Back Up has always been there to support and encourage me, whether it was through mentoring or the Over 50s Multi Activity course which was terrific but I was scared silly – I don’t like heights!”
Despite her fears on the course, Penny pushed through and loved the experience. She plans to take this same attitude with her to Snowdonia. When she’s not preparing for the Push, she travels around the country helping others as a wheelchair skills trainer on our courses. She looks forward to doing even more in the future.
“I just want to continue volunteering at Back Up as well as the other things I love doing. I’m also looking forward to the arrival of my new wheelchair. It will allow me to get out much more, even when the weather’s not particularly good!”