Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Key to a New Life; OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY SPECIAL

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Key to a New Life; OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY SPECIAL

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNE MONTAGUE

Occupational therapists play a vital role at St Elizabeth's Centre, a remarkable home for those with severe epilepsy.

Anne Montague reports

MENINGITIS threatened the life of Joanne Kelly when she was three months old but she seemed to recover. However, a year later she started having convulsions and her development was slow. "Her brother, who is 13 months younger, learned to speak before Joanne but the realisation that things weren't right crept up on us," says her father Graham, 53, an accountant from Essex.

He avoided facing the reality that meningitis had caused brain damage, which left Joanne with epilepsy, learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

These became progressively worse after she started school.

"She had speech difficulties and severe behavioural problems. She regularly had seizures and was bullied mercilessly," says Graham. By the time Joanne was nine, the school couldn't cope and asked Graham to remove her. "I didn't know where to turn," he says. "Then someone suggested I contact the St Elizabeth's Centre."

St Elizabeth's, in Much Hadham, near Bishop's Stortford, is one of only two centres in the UK offering occupational therapy, lifelong education and care to people with epilepsy.

It was set up in 1903 by an order of French nuns at a time when epileptics were treated as pariahs and often ended up in asylums. The nuns created a haven, a community where people were treated with love, dignity and respect.

Today, the centre, set in 63 acres of parkland, employs more than 400 full- and part-time staff and includes a residential school for 80 children aged between seven and 19, as well as a bungalow "village" for the 104 adult residents.

There is a 24-hour medical team and a multitherapy unit.

As well as occupational therapists and physiotherapists, there are teachers, care assistantsnurses, GPs and consultants. The centre also has a social club and arts and ceramics studio. The nuns' Christian ethos prevails: the emphasis is on providing a professional service on the basis of need, regardless of people's religious, cultural or ethnic background.

More than half of those attending the school are aged 16-19 and most of them do eventually leave St Elizabeth's: they join youth groups, do work experience and spend time in the centre's flat to prepare them for life outside. …

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