Lifegeta: The Hitchin-based support network for those with life-changing conditions and injuries
PUBLISHED: 10:05 31 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:51 04 February 2020
Sue Ross set up Lifegeta back in 2009, after suffering two strokes at the age of just 26. Now she's offering vital support to others going through similar experiences
How do you manage after a life-changing event such as a stroke or head injury, or diagnosis of a condition such as MS, fibromyalgia or depression?
Sue Ross had a double stroke as an active 26-year-old with a glamorous job and full social life. The first happened at home and paralysed the left side of her body. The second happened six hours later in hospital and paralysed the other side of her body. She spent the next 10 days in 'locked-in syndrome'.
The following year was spent in three different hospitals, the last six months in a rehabilitation unit. Sue left hospital still unable to walk. She received physiotherapy for a year and then all support stopped.
Deep depression followed. Now 28, in a wheelchair and out of work, Sue put on two stone self-medicating with food and alcohol, feeling these were the only areas over which she had any control. On one occasion after self-medicating she fell out of her wheelchair and ended up in hospital. It was while waiting in casualty that she realised she had two choices - she could either go on feeling sorry for herself or she could take herself in hand and make the best of things. She decided on the latter.
In 2009, after a few years of giving up the unhealthy choices, Sue set up Lifegeta. Her mission was to provide the support she hadn't had, to people going through a similar experience. Lifegeta is based in Hitchin and the group meets monthly. Sessions look at the emotional effects of finding yourself in a body that doesn't do what it used to do, through talking, self-development groups, workshops and other activities. The charity's aim is to be 'a lighthouse pointing you in the right direction, giving you the tools to mend yourself'.
One example of how Lifegeta supports people is Annie Roberts. She had a stroke following surgery to clip an aneurysm and says she felt useless and frightened afterwards. She turned to mental health services and found out about Lifegeta. She was wary but decided to give it a try as it was nearby.
'As soon as I walked through the door I felt at home,' she says. 'Everyone was so friendly. Everybody pulls together and shares knowledge and tips. We're like one big family.'
Sue adds, 'I truly believe that you have to be emotionally ready before you an be expected to fight for your rights, like benefits. For years I felt like people only seemed to see a person, or should I say a symptom, in a wheelchair. If I can enable people to get past the plateau or depression that may come after a sudden life-changing event, then it's all been worthwhile.'
This article is by North Herts Centre for Voluntary Services. There are seven CVS in the county offering hundreds of volunteering opportunities. Visit hertscvs.org.uk for details.