Alan given his life back by hospital service

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Newport Pagnell man Alan Richardson has ‘nothing but praise’ for a service at Milton Keynes Hospital that not only rescued him from death’s door, but gave him his life back.

Alan, 63, was admitted to hospital one Wednesday in April 2010 with pneumonia, blood clots and a massive virus. He was so ill that the doctors in the Critical Care Unit told his wife he might not survive until the weekend. Thanks to the care provided by the team, however, he pulled through.

Surviving a life-threatening illness is only half way to getting better. After being unconscious and heavily medicated for a period of time, patients often face a long battle to return to full health. As a result of being unable to move, they lose an average of two per cent muscle mass every day they are in a bed. They may have problems performing every day tasks and have continuing physical and psychological problems.

Milton Keynes Hospital’s Critical Care Rehabilitation Service make sure their patients don’t just live to tell the tale, but are able to live a full a life as possible. The service is one of just a few in the country.

Alan said: “It was a bit of a shock to wake up in hospital and realise I’d been unconscious for two weeks. When I first woke up, the physiotherapist stood at the foot of my bed and said they’d get me walking again – I thought they must be joking.”

The Rehabilitation Service helps patients recover by inviting them to attend an eight-week programme of exercise and physiotherapy that starts a few weeks after they are discharged. After the eight-week programme, the patient’s goals are re-examined, and if needed, they are referred to an appropriate service for further exercise.

Alan, who also suffers from cancer that is unrelated to his stay in critical care, reported that while the physiotherapy programme wasn’t easy, it was worth its weight in gold. His programme of physiotherapy took around 12 months in total, but he feels he wouldn’t have recovered so well without it and would be confined to a wheelchair.

“The words ‘thank you’ sound so meaningless, when you think of everything that the team has done for me,” said Alan. “They gave me the courage and strength to pull through. I feel like they saved my life twice.”

As part of the rehabilitation programme, patients are also invited to visit the Critical Care Ward. This is an important part of their recovery as most patients have no recollection of being in the unit. The visit can help them understand the strange sounds they heard, how the machines helped to keep them alive and overcome resulting psychological problems.

Including Alan, 37 patients have completed the Critical Care Rehabilitation programme. At a focus group including some of these patients, 87.5 per cent said they felt ‘much better’ or ‘back to normal’ as the result of the programme. Alan has this advice for anyone in a similar situation: “Have faith, do what they tell you and you will be able to carry on with your life.”

Louise Worrall, Respiratory Physiotherapy Team Lead, said: “Patients who have survived a critical illness need support and physical rehabilitation to return to achieve as good a recovery as possible. When we have saved a patient’s life, we should ensure that they achieve their greatest potential and give them back a quality of life.

“As Alan’s case shows, the Milton Keynes Critical Care Rehabilitation Service can speed up a patient’s psychological and physical recovery and help them live as full a life as possible.

“The Milton Keynes service is one of only a few such services in the country. We are hoping to work with colleagues across the area to extend the service and help other Critical Care patients like Alan.”

Former Critical Care patients and their families are also able to gain support through ICU Steps. Drop-in sessions are open to anyone who has experience of intensive care, as a patient or relative and would like to talk to others who understand their experiences. The group meets every six weeks at Age UK, Peartree Bridge. For more information, please visit the group page here