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How a tweet can end with a flight to Gaza

19 Sep 2018

Ornately draped curtains hung around the room blocking out the midday sun. Sioned stood teaching. It was all so familiar; a room full of delegates, PowerPoint presentation, projector and screen. The humid room though, was a tell-tale sign that behind the green curtains lay the bustling hubbub of Gaza rather than the green fields of North Wales

From Chester to Gaza

Usually on a Wednesday morning Sioned Davies would be working as a paediatric physiotherapist in the Countess of Chester hospital seeing a range of children with neurological disabilities. Then one impulsive tweet and series of emails later she found herself using annual leave to jump on a plane to Gaza rather than a sunny beach in Spain. Alongside Colin, a Paediatric Physiotherapist from Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, Sioned flew with the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) to shadow practitioners at work and provide a three-day training course for paediatric physiotherapists focusing on spasticity and postural care management.

The Goldsmith Indices

Readied with a The Goldsmith Indices measuring equipment and wealth of knowledge, the three-day course was crammed full of evidence based practice which the therapists could use directly in their public and privately funded clinics. When asked what incident will stick with her from the trip, Sioned told of a four-year-old girl she meet in ITU who had been on a ventilator for ten months. Despite high tech, specialised care keeping the preschooler alive, it was obvious to Sioned that the lack of postural care was contributing to her hips slowly dislocating whilst in hospital.

It was a stark indicator of some of the dramatic differences with practice in Gaza and the UK. Although therapists undergo a comprehensive four-year training course to qualify as a physio, post graduate training is minimal. With very little structure and accountability, specialties within practice rarely develop and there is little drive for continuing professional development or evidence based practice. Add to this the lack of specialist equipment and antispasmodic medications, and what results is predominantly poor postural care management.

Standardised care

Back at home in the specialist school she works, Sioned has seen positive change in the prevention of deformities and maximizing function in the children she cares for. Through staff training, postural care has become an integral part of the school day. The improvements in children’s posture has then been proven using the Goldsmith Indices as an annual outcome measurement. Where previously they had depended on unreliable x-rays and photographic pictures to monitor postural changes, the Goldsmith Index has allowed care to be standardised, providing reliable measurements of postural alignment.

 

In Gaza, therapists were so grateful for the knowledge Sioned and Colin shared. Quickly they could see how postural management not only impacted function and movement for mobile children but also when thinking about chest physio and the respiratory system. Every aspect of a person’s quality of life can be impacted positively by good postural care management. With the intensive training provided, therapists were inspired to take a leading role in postural assessments. Encouraging them to acknowledge small postural changes which have the potential to prevent deformities. It is a big mind shift for practitioners and families who are used to ‘treating’ patients for a short episode of care before allowing child to return to ‘normal life’.

Painful and life-limiting contractors accepted as inevitable

Before the training by MAP, therapists accepted painful and life-limiting deformities as an inevitable consequence for those with neurological disabilities or limited movement. A reality witnessed by Sioned who noticed a higher prevalence of excruciating and limiting contractures compared to the UK. One young six-year-old, who participated in the case study aspect of the training, had to be lifted everywhere by his family. With incredibly high tone, no wheelchair, no walker, no splints, no baclofen, his quality of life was dramatically reduced. Sioned reflected,

“We take it for granted. Baclofen, splints and the equipment we have available. The impact on the family was incredible, having to carry their 6-year-old every single day.”

The frustration of not being able to provide highly specialised equipment and medications was eased when it came to night-time postural care. Having never seen any kind of sleep system before, the therapists finished their course inspired and equipped with the necessary principles of care needed to help families. Using locally sourced or improvised equipment, therapists can now provide the essential nighttime support children need to help prevent body shaped distortion in a gentle and humane way. It is an achievable goal with the life-changing potential to reduce pain, maximise function and improve quality of life

What next?

Now back home, Sioned is already dreaming of her next trip to Gaza. It is hoped with the necessary funding, MAP will be able to broaden the work they have started. Together they dream of further equipping therapists with the knowledge, skills and equipment. In particular, they hope to begin to engage families in their vital role in providing 24-hour postural care. For Sioned it is a seemingly small but very strong step forward in a long and worthwhile journey in improving the lives of children two and a half thousand miles from her rural home in Wales.