A View from the Chair - May 2013
Firstly, please accept my apology for last month's shortened 'A View from the Chair' which was due to the shocking news that my wife Pam had had a stroke which affected our lives massively. Thank you to Mark for writing his 'guest article, I don't know about you, but I thought it was excellent. I am pleased to report that Pam is making a good recovery, and things have started to calm down somewhat. When she had the stroke we were just four weeks before flying back to Egypt with Dave and Janis Williams, but all of this was thrown into chaos. Firstly she was left for hours untreated in the Accident and Emergency Department. One has to ask why the reception staff didn't follow the Stroke Association's national FAST campaign, even though it was clear to see that her speech and memory had been affected.
Several days later she saw a consultant who confirmed that she had had a stroke, and that a previous problem she had three years ago was probably a stroke. She was prescribed medication and told to refrain from driving for at least one month, but he did confirm that as long as she didn't have any further complications she should be able to travel, but we would need to check it out with our insurance company. Unfortunately our original company said no, but after a quick search on the internet we managed to find another that would cover her.
A week later Pam saw a second consultant and he stated that she shouldn't fly without a new medication, and without it she was at a high risk of having a massive stroke. Several days later the clinic that was expected to monitor the new medication confirmed that they couldn't fit her in for at least three weeks, which happened to be the day before we were due to be flying!
The next ten days were an absolute nightmare, GP's, nurse specialists and consultants, all saying something different, but nothing definite, it seemed that nobody really wanted to commit themselves, which left Pam, me, Dave and Janis not knowing if we were going away or not. All of this at a time when Pam should have been staying calm and not getting stressed out.
Eventually, just a few days before we were due to fly, after dozens of phone calls and emails, plus two appointments with a GP we managed to get Pam a private appointment with her consultant. But even during the forty minute appointment it wasn't clear which way it would go, but just as we both resigned ourselves to not going on holiday the consultant mentioned a new medication, but he explained that it was expensive and not yet cleared by NHS commissioners. As we were desperate to go on holiday Pam and I agreed to speak to her GP the following day and to pay ourselves if they wouldn't.
Thankfully, that wasn't necessary, as Pam's GP said yes and it looked like she now had the all clear to fly. As you can imagine, we were all delighted, not to mention mentally exhausted, but this was very short-lived as our new insurance company said no, because the newly prescribed medication was so new, it wasn't recognised on their systems.
I'm pleased to say that 24 hours later they changed their decision and a couple of days later we flew out to Egypt for two weeks well-earned rest, knowing that on our return Pam would face a battery of tests to identify exactly what had caused the stroke and to take measures to limit the chances of it happening again. More about our holiday later.
Going the Extra Mile Scuba Challenge 2013
Although our third annual 'Going the Extra Mile Scuba Challenge' won't be remembered for raising the most funds, it will be remembered for the best in terms of raising the profile of Disability Awareness Day and that of Warrington Disability Partnership. That said we are on target to raise nearly £8,000. Just before Christmas when I met up with Terry Wood from Cheshire Scuba Academy to plan our 2013 event we looked back on our first two events, and he reminded me about the problems I had faced whilst changing air tanks part way through the dive. Terry suggested that I could look to complete the 64 lengths using the Poseidon Rebreather system, which can be used to extend a single dive to around three and a half hours. But it would involve lots of training.
Well, Terry and I are used to challenges; after all, he was the one that guided me through my PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses, and several other courses since. During the coming months we spent hours in the pools at Irlam and Haydock, but it didn't go as well as we expected. Naturally, the breathing is different, but that together with the change in distribution of the weights was causing major problems with my buoyancy. So much so that the week before the challenge Terry and I discussed the possibility of going back to conventional system, but a phone call from Paul Crone from Granada TV News convinced us to stick with it. Two days before the challenge Paul met up with Terry and I at Sankey Leisure Centre to film an interview that was aired four times the following day. Andy, one of my original dive instructors and my good friend and aspiring diver John Munslow were on hand to assist with the kit and Janis Williams joined us to take photos. When we arrived Paul explained that he would also like Terry to film some underwater footage, and oh boy, he had a couple of great underwater cameras, the Go Pro Hero 3 used by extreme sportsmen and women. The filming was expected to take thirty minutes, but we were still there two hours later. But thanks to the team at Sankey, we completed the task in hand. It was a really memorable session as only a few feet away, we were being watched by nearly sixty kids attending a teaching session. Terry and I felt like film stars. Follow this link to see for yourself http://www.itv.com/news/granada/topic/dave-thompson/
On the day of the challenge I was feeling very nervous, because unknown to viewers of the news item, as we were filming the news item we encountered technical difficulties with the rebreather kit and I still wasn't confident with my buoyancy. Once on poolside it was clear to see that we had a great turn out, Terry and his team from Cheshire Scuba Academy provided the diving equipment and safety cover, Janis and Marie from WDP co-ordinated the administration, my wife Pam and several Trustees from WDP, joined by Peter Ives and his team from Birchwood Lions acted as counters. Together with friends, family and supporters the atmosphere was fantastic and the colourful promotional flags and banners helped to set the scene for a great event that attracted over thirty divers.
As I touched the wall at the end of the first length I felt really comfortable, Terry had made the right adjustments with my weights, and my buoyancy was good. That was until my glove fell apart a couple of strokes into the second length. But no panic, I held up my hand to John, who was acting as my support diver quickly signalled to the support team on the poolside, they found my spare and John fitted it and I was off. As each length was ticked off I got into a steady rhythm, I even had time to look across to the other lanes waving from time to time at my fellow divers who included my dive buddy and best friend Dave Williams who was belting back and to like a dolphin. It wasn't much of a surprise that he posted a record time of just 54 minutes for the mile. Jack and Dave Sloan were in the next lane, it was great to see young Jack, who is only 13 years old supporting our event, in the lane after that John Munslow was joined by Chrissie. The lane after that included Steve Bentley, husband of WDP Treasurer and my good friend Sue. It was also great to see several friends and work colleagues from 5 Boroughs.
At around half way I was feeling very comfortable with the Poseidon rebreather and felt 'in the zone' mentally but physically my shoulder and elbow were very painful, so much so that my swimming stroke was getting shorter and I was swimming slower. A few lengths later I began to feel physically sick, but it soon passed and an hour later John held the 60 length marker, and I knew that I could make it. Minutes later I touched the wall for the final time and I surfaced feeling absolutely shattered, but the cheers soon instilled an injection of energy needed to swim over to the pool-hoist where Terry confirmed that my time was one hour fifty seven minutes, just three minutes under our two hours target!
Once in my wheelchair I got hugs from my three grandchildren Jamie, Ellie and Chloe, and then it was off to collect my tee-shirt and certificate, presented by the Mayor of Warrington Councillor Steve Wright. About half an hour later we cheered the last few divers as they surfaced, and we presented our support team members with commemorative tee-shirts and it was all hands on deck to clear up. About an hour later I looked across an empty pool and smiled as I thought back on another successful event. Until next year... or our next scuba challenge, oh yes, we are already talking about the 'Three Deep 18 Metre Dives', Lock Long in Scotland, Capernwray in Lancashire and Lake Vivian in North Wales, all in the same day. Watch this space! During the week following the event I managed to catch up with almost everyone involved, interestingly everyone had stories to tell about their aches and pains, but we all managed a smile of sheer satisfaction that we completed the Challenge and raised valuable funds towards this year's Disability Awareness Day that will be held on Sunday the 14th July at Walton Hall Gardens. Visit this link on you tube to see a DVD of the event.www.youtube.com/watch?v=Alqy52c-Olkk
A week after the Scuba Challenge Pam and I joined Dave and Janis for a fortnight in Sharm El Sheik, a great place for rest and relaxation in the sun, oh and 13 very memorable dives for me and Dave! Once again, we were picked up at the airport by a bus from the Aquarius Dive Centre, and we headed off to the Coral Sea Resort, a hotel we have stayed at several times, and as we arrived it was evident that the front entrance was different, but nothing compared to the changes to the rear of the hotel. It was only 7 months since when we were last there, and during this time they had constructed one of the biggest water parks any of us have ever seen. Although the large slides aren't accessible the Lazy River is, and so too is the café and the new entertainment area.
As we settled down to our first morning in the sun we were joined by our good friend Musty, manager at the onsite Dive Centre, as the midday temperature hit 38 centigrade any thoughts of the wind and rain back home in Warrington seemed a distant memory. But the best outcome from the holiday was seeing Pam's confidence rebuild, her new medication was working well, and she was feeling batter by the day. That said, she was heeding her doctor's advice, no alcohol and plenty of rest.
During the next two weeks Dave and I spent a day's diving followed by a day with Pam and Janis by the pool. We visited dive sites at Tiran Island and Ras Mohamed, taking in dives at Jackson, Woodhouse and Thomas reefs, plus Jackfish Alley. Our most memorable dives were three wrecks, Kormoran, Million Hope and another visit to Thistlegorm the 2nd World War supplies ship that was sunk by German bombers in 1941. Looking back at our Dive Logs, it is good to compare the notes from previous dives at these sites, and it is good to see that our training sessions in the swimming pools at Irlam and Haydock are paying off with increased bottom times which this time neared 70 minutes several times. This probably explains the highest number of photographs I have taken during one holiday, including at least half a dozen turtles. I spotted one adult turtle 10 to 15 metres in front of me and as I drifted slowly towards it, it was clear to see that it wasn't aware of my presence. It had its head deep inside a very large piece of coral, and as I hovered above it my camera was less than a foot away from its head when it pulled his head out of the coral, looked at me, and then got back on with his meal.
Another memorable encounter resulted in over a minute of great DVD footage of an adult Blue Spotted Ray which was busy sifting in the sand as I softly lay flat on the white sandy bottom a few feet away. As I zoomed in, it stopped for a second or two, looked up and appeared to smile at me, later I was told that it was using its sensors located near its mouth to see if I presented any danger. When it realised I didn't, he just got back to sifting the sand. Another magic moment captured on DVD. During this trip Dave and I met another disabled diver, Jimmy, an amputee, who was diving with his wife Sadie. Naturally we invited them to join us at this year's Disability Awareness Day.
Three days before we setoff home Musty convinced Pam and Janis that he was disappointed not to have had the opportunity to join us on a dive, with a big smile and a hug he managed to convince the ladies that we should join him for a dive on the famous Million Hope, the largest and newest of the shipwrecks found in the Sharm region of the Red Sea.
The Million Hope was launched in Japan in 1972, but in 1996 she was on route from Aqaba to Taiwan with 26,000 tons of potash when she ran aground on the inshore reef near Nabq Bay, just a few hundred metres off the beach from our hotel, although getting to the wreck involves a boat trip for a safe drop-off from the far side of the wreck. Although we had dived the Million Hope before, Musty ensured that this would be something special, and he kept to his word with a route under the wreck, then deep inside the now empty holds, into small rooms originally used as the living quarters by the crew. Seventy minutes after we dropped off the dive boat, we were back on the surface and it was smiles all round after another great dive.
When we got back to the beach, the guys lifted me off the boat and carried me to my wheelchair, and as Musty and Dave carried the tanks and gear back to the waiting dive bus, I sat looking out across the sea knowing that this was the last dive here, until next time.
We spent the last two days soaking up the sun by the pool, and all was well until just before midday when we heard a commotion and saw young Mustafa running across to the water park with a large oxygen cylinder. About an hour later he came back and we could tell by the expression on his face that there was something wrong, and when we asked he replied, 'baby dead'. It later emerged that a young five year old girl, who had arrived the evening before with her family had sadly drowned in the wave pool. As you can imagine this dampened the atmosphere, and in respect for the family the loud music that usually played out from the large bottom family pool was silent, and all of the evenings entertainments were cancelled. When we arrived back in the UK the child's death was headline news.
The weekend after we arrived back we were busy with the summer fundraising, with a tombola and information stand on the Saturday and an early morning start on Sunday when we travelled to Manchester to cheer on the 25 members of Team WDP who were competing in the 10K Run, including my son Gavin and daughter in law Caroline and son in law Tommy. Great effort, it actually made me think about joining in next year's wheelchair competitors, and then I remembered how bad my shoulder was after a scuba dive and I thought better of it. I will stick to supporting the younger and fitter members of the team.
John Passes His PADI Qualification
As the last members of Team WDP ran by, we packed up our flags and banners and it was quickly into the car and we headed off to Caperwray near Lancaster to support John Munslow who was set to complete his PADI Open Water course. We arrived just in time to join Brun to see him surface with a beaming smile on his face. Minutes later it was thumbs up as Terry from Cheshire Scuba Academy gave him the pass he had work hard to gain. Watching the runners in Manchester and seeing John emerge from the cold water gave us all an appetite, Pam, Dave, Janis, Brun, John and myself headed upstairs to the onsite café for a hot coffee and bowl of chips.
Official Opening of the Marjorie Griffiths Learning Centre
At the end of May we remembered one of Warrington's most dedicated individuals Marjorie Griffiths; when we officially opened the newly extended Learning Centre, which we renamed the Marjorie Griffiths Learning Centre to honour her memory.
Marjorie was the former head mistress of my old school Bewsey High School, and she volunteered much of her 'spare' time, over many years, supporting the MS Society and fought tirelessly for the rights of disabled people until her death in 1994.
The Griffiths Court Foundation was founded in her memory, with the aim of providing respite care for local people, sadly, due to the recession we were forced to abandon our plans in 2012. However, my fellow Trustees of the foundation decided to donate some of the surplus funds to WDP in order for a much needed expansion to be completed on the Learning Centre. Given the work that is undertaken in the centre, in particular, the education and independence it provides to disabled people and the brief respite it provides to families when their loved ones are attending courses; it is rather poignant that it has been named after Marjorie.
Marjorie's relatives Andy Collins and Debbie England were incredibly touched by the ceremony in recognition of their late aunt. Andy said "Marjorie would be so thrilled because her whole life was dedicated to the education and care of people with disabilities and that is exactly what the centre is all about." An old friend, and currently the Mayor of Warrington Councillor Peter Carey joined us to officially open the new centre; he said that "WDP is a huge success story, it started from very humble beginnings and has developed into the incredible organisation that supports thousands of disabled people not just in Warrington but across the world". I first met Marjorie at Bewsey High School, and I met her again a number of years later when we met at Dallam Day Centre. She was a wonderful woman, a real character and you always felt her presence when she was in the room. Everyone who met her, respected her.
DAD International - Cameroon
DAD has extended its appeal to Cameroon in Central Africa. Closing the Gap, a user led disability organisation have expressed an interest in organising an event on Sunday 14th July, adding more evidence to our aim of creating an International Disability Awareness Day.
As you can see it has been another busy month. Until next time, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.
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