Francis was born three months prematurely, weighing only 890 grammes, and, the first time we were allowed to hold him, at a month old, he fitted into one of his Dad’s hand.
During, or shortly after birth, he had three brain haemorrhages and has, as a result, hemi-paresis, dorsal stream cerebral visual impairment and cerebral palsy, for which he uses a wheelchair.
He also has sub-glottic stenosis as a result of being intubated as an emergency three times during the first few weeks of his life. This means that if he gets an throat infection his airway can close and he needs emergency hospitalization. Thankfully, as he gets bigger, his airway is growing and he has fewer episodes. Nonetheless, we have his medical history and protocol translated into French, Spanish and Italian so that we can go on holiday safely.
Following a brief spell in a SILC, Francis has always been in mainstream nursery and school and is currently in his GCSE year. He is set to go into sixth form at Roundhay school next September to study Politics, Sociology and English Language. His inclusion has been made possible by a posse (over the years) of full-time Teaching Assistants, all of whom have left their mark on him, and he his mark on them. Come holiday times we have an ever increasing list of nice ladies to meet for cups of tea!
As Francis has grown up we have had help from PhysCap on two occasions. Firstly they very kindly donated an amount towards a through floor lift that we had put into our house in 2001. More recently they have donated an amount towards a top of the range sports wheelchair, costing £6,500, so that Francis can be independent.
Having found a measure of independence in his new chair Francis decided that he would like to give something back to all the people who have helped him over the years. He talked to me about what he could do, what his strengths are, and we wrote a letter to the Donkey Sanctuary in Leeds where Francis had had riding lessons himself when he was still able to sit astride a donkey. The Donkey Sanctuary replied that they would love to have him as a volunteer and he now goes every Thursday to act as receptionist at their twilight riding club for children with disabilities. He is very popular and good at his job, knowing everyone’s names, their appointment times and remembers special messages each week.
In November of 2011 he was nominated to Lloyds Bank as a potential Olympic Torchbearer in recognition of his giving something back to his community and, having been chosen from tens of thousands of applicants, proudly carried the Olympic torch through Leeds in June of this year.
He was seen carrying the torch by a lady in Leeds who works with the local authority to make sure that children with disabilities have a say in how companies are employed to deliver services that they might use, such as short breaks, and Francis was asked if he would sit on the interview panel. He has so far ‘interviewed’ three companies who have tendered for council contracts.
As a result of that experience his name has been put forward to sit on the Leeds Youth Council and will begin to do so in the New Year.
PhysCap’s support over the years has helped Francis reach his potential and we will always be grateful. Funding equipment that can give a young person with a disability their best shot at life is a costly business but can make all the difference as you can see. Cheers PhysCap. Keep up the good work!