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By Kevin Unitt Thursday 21 February 2013 Updated: 22/02 09:33
MENTION the term 'rehab' these days and most people will think of troubled celebrities checking themselves in for treatment.
But Leamington Rehabilitation Hospital is something very different altogether. In fact it is one of the ten very best such centres in the entire country in dealing with traumatic brain injuries, and is only set to get better once current work on a £6.2 million project to expand the Heathcote Lane site from 30 to 42 beds is completed at the end of the year.
But on a visit to the centre this week, Observer reporter Kevin Unitt found out why a public appeal for a further £235,000 – to enhance the environment of the centre – is so vitally important to the recovery of patients.
FIRST thing to say is this is not a 'hospital'. Probably why an appeal is currently out for a suitable new name for the centre, which as I come to learn is a genuine jewel on our doorstep that many local people remain unaware of.
While many patients are turned over quickly in actual hospitals, here the average stay is around four months. Some spend a year. Which is why the environment has to be beyond functional, why residents have to feel at home as much as possible, from specialist furniture to specialist lighting systems.
The two patients I meet are far from the most severe sufferers, but both – though confined to wheelchairs – are lucid and talkative with brains at least as active and functional as mine. Probably beyond.
Tim has been here three months. The victim of a hit and run in America, the Warwickshire resident was flown home to the hospital and credits the centre with his rapid recent progress.
He said: “I have taken down all the 'get well soon' cards. I'm not ill as such, not in hospital. Here I have a set weekly plan with various sessions. Ultimately its about psychology and your own mentality, but being such a warm, caring environment, with good people to treat you or to be alongside you as fellow patients is so important.”
Perhaps as evidence of his progress, Tim is sharp enough to tell me he was Warwickshire's fastest 1,500 metre runner for many years, and that I should perhaps make note of this in the story. A huge running trophy by his bed is verification.
Many patients currently live alongside each other in two-bed rooms, often just a curtain – or small canteen downstairs – counting as personal space. This will change when the new facilities are completed, the number of single bed rooms rising, quiet areas increased in size, visiting families from all over the country catered for to a greater degree.
Gill, another patient from Leicester, echoes the views of Tim, that she is not in need of 'get well soon' cards and is determined to make a positive mental attitude the focus of her recovery.
Both are willing to do everything they can to support the appeal for extra funds to further improve the environment in which they live. Now 12 weeks into her stay, Gill had to leave a previous facility in Leicester due to its maximum stay rule. No such restrictions apply here.
Another previous patient Steve Harcourt, who was knocked off his motorcycle and suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2010 but defied the odds to re-learn to walk and talk, has already raised £1,800 toward the appeal as a thank-you for his treatment.
Centre manager Sue Bleasdale told me its growing reputation for excellence brought with it its own pressures, such as waiting lists, telling the story of a man from the south of Ireland turning up on the doorstep as there was nothing like it near his home and he'd heard such good things about Leamington.
But while their care for patients – generally young but they take anyone aged 16 to 65 – is renowned, Sue knows more can still be done.
She said: “The danger is every patient is just grateful to be here, grateful to be getting better, and we do not look at the facilities and how we can improve them.
“We know the environment in which they are treated is so important to their attitude and recovery and that is why we have launched an appeal for the extra funding, to make the centre extra special outside of what the funding will cover. For example each patient has a week planner just on a piece of paper at the moment but we want interactive communication boards we can vary in size so everyone can use them fully.
“It becomes a home for people here because of how long they can end up staying. Many are so injured they have to learn everything again. How to talk, how to eat, everything. Often long-term memory remains, like knowing your Aunt's birthday, but what you did 15 minutes ago won't be, so patients can forget they've eaten and want to eat again.
“Some never manage to improve but we try our best and they are certainly in the best possible place to attempt it.
“If this appeal goes well we believe things can be even better for those staying here.”
South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the rehab hospital, has launched the fund-raising appeal http://www.justgiving.com/LBIappeal for people to donate.
People can also donate to the appeal via their mobile phones. Text 'SWFT11' plus a stated donation of £2, £5 or £10 to 70070.
For more information call fund-raising manager Jacqui Wood on 01926 495321 ext 8049.
The centre is also looking for volunteers. Opportunities for people aged 17 and over are available in a variety of areas, including assisting with the maintenance of the gardens, as well as working alongside patients as a friend by keeping them company and playing games with them.
If you are interested please contact the Volunteers Coordinator via the switch board 01926 317700.
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