• marie-tolly

From patient to carer. How brain surgery transformed Sam's life for the better

Updated: Jan 4

Personal crisis can be crushing. It can also be liberating in extraordinary ways, forcing - and in some cases an enabling - great change. When Sam discovered that she had a pituitary tumour on the brain in 2010, her world was thrown upside down. All her security was gone. Certainty about her life evaporated overnight.

Rushed into Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, she underwent a four hour emergency operation. The procedure saved her life. Then began the long road to recovery.

The operation gave Sam perspective. She started to look at the world differently. She took stock of her life and her personal goals and determined to embark on a new chapter in her life – helping others.

But first, Sam had to get back on her feet. Having worked in retail most of her life Sam returned to what she knew best, working in a superstore and as a supervisor at a large fuel station.

Anxiety and depression weighed heavily on Sam’s mind, as did fear of the unknown. The worry of leaving the role that she had worked in for 14 years was simply too big - it was a safety net - but the recognition that change was needed remained with her.

Sam’s post-operative rehabilitation, which lasted 3 months, gave her time to think more deeply about what she wanted in life. She had been given a second chance, and so she wanted to give something back to others.

Having had a Great Aunt that had suffered from dementia, Sam knew that she had an interest in working with people suffering from debilitating conditions. So, when she came across the work of Independent Living West Country and saw the way in which it supports those suffering from acute mental health conditions, such as anxiety, Sam knew this was her calling.

Despite lacking directly relevant experience, Sam approached the team at Independent Living West Country to see if there was a role for her. Fortunately, for her, she was able to meet its founder Marie Tolly, who has an uncanny knack of knowing the right people for the role.

Sam was given a trial day, and it was clear that she was a perfect fit. Sam didn’t think twice. She handed in her notice at the fuel station and started in her new role on the following Monday.

With the support of Marie and the team at Independent Living West Country, Sam underwent all the necessary training for her position as a Support Worker, and she hasn’t looked back.

“I love the job. No two days are the same,” says Sam. “I work with clients contending with conditions ranging from autism and anxiety through to debilitating depression. We help them on their personal journey to more independent lives. Providing everything from assistance with shopping for those that are housebound, to accompanied, socially distanced exercise for those suffering from anxiety, there’s nothing that we won’t do to enhance our clients’ lives - where we can.”

Of the many examples that Sam could cite, she explains how she recently helped one of her clients - who suffers with PTSD and lives in a one bed flat without windows - raise her banding for housing with Devon Home Choice:

“It was clear that the accommodation was undeniably detrimental to her wellbeing and mental health. So, it became critical to raise her banding, as that enhances her chance of successfully bidding for and moving to better council owned accommodation.

“So that’s exactly what we did. I wrote to the council to explain her situation and her desperate need to move. It’s not part of our formal role, but it’s what needed doing.”

Having convinced the Council of her case, Sam’s client has now been moved on to the second-highest banding for accommodation, enhancing the likelihood that she’ll secure appropriate housing, aiding her personal path to recovery.

Sam adds: “Independent Living West Country focuses on the individual’s needs first. Tailoring services to meet their individual circumstance sets us apart in the sector. It’s an approach that’s helping to transform lives throughout Devon and Cornwall.”

Sam sees most clients for two-three hour sessions. That’s pretty unusual in the sector, where businesses tend to squeeze in as many clients as possible to optimise profit. Independent Living West Country is different in that respect. It builds strong and trusting relationships with its clients, which is key to their personal development and recovery.

“We look at what we can do to enrich our clients’ lives in a host of innovative and uplifting ways,” says Sam. ‘It’s why we’re introducing the use of therapy dogs.’

“Having had dogs in the past to help overcome personal anxiety, I know just how valuable the power of the paw can be in aiding recovery in others. So, when I mentioned that I planned to train my springer spaniel puppy as a therapy dog, Marie was 100% behind me. It’ll be a few months yet, but I hope to introduce clients to Sophie within the year.”

If you would like to find out how Independent Living West Country can help you, a friend, family, client or patient, do please get in contact.

Working with private clients as well as those supported by the DWP and Devon County Council (DCC), we create tailored packages informed and approved by DCC Support Workers where appropriate. Designed to meet the precise needs of each individual, our packages of support are always built to help our clients on their journey towards greater independence.

You can find out more about our range of services here or simply call one of the team on 01392 467007.

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