For Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week (2-8 September 2019), a 121 Care staff member and a member of the board were more than willing to tell of their life changing past and the work of a local support organisation.
Sarah Skelton is no stranger to the plight of those suffering spinal cord injuries as from the age of ten she has had to deal with life in a wheelchair.
She said, one morning she woke up with a very sore neck and heavy legs, yet undeterred she went for a drive to Caloundra with her family.
“A little way into the trip I lost all feeling and movement from the waist down,” she said.
“I was transported to a Brisbane hospital by helicopter where they discovered I had a tumour at the top of my spinal cord which had ruptured.”
She was told by doctors that she would never be able to walk again.
“My parents remained positive and I did get some feeling and movement over time,” she said.
She missed out on a large part of year-six at primary school, however completed that and eventually high school with the help of friends, teachers and a large support network.
“After that I and got a job in the employment and job network industry and moved into my own rental property,” she said.
However, not truly happy with her life, she yearned for work helping people with disabilities.
After volunteering at 121 Care for three days I was offered a job,” she said.
“Now I am the Liaison Officer of their wonderful Client Services Team whose main aim is to get clients the support services they need.”
121 Care Treasurer Robert Ellis said his life altered dramatically in 1984 on a trip from Amberley Air Base to Biggenden.
“My sister and I were driving up to visit our grandparents when a freak accident sent our car off a dirt road into a creek,” he said.
“She saved my life – My sister did.
She got my head above the water and then went looking for help.”
After nine months in rehab at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Robert took to life in a wheelchair.
“I Went back to study and completed night school for my senior and then tertiary studies in finance,” he said.
“I also played wheelchair rugby for a time until I found I was too old and injury prone.”
In 2014 Robert was harassed by a good friend to take up the treasurer’s role at 121 Care as they need his qualifications and experience.
“I was hesitant at first as I working in a number of roles in different companies,” he said.
“However, my friend was persistent and eventually won me over.”
After looking at what 121 Care did for their clients, Robert decided to become one.
“I was sold on their ethos of giving people the freedom of choice,” he said.
“They gave me control rather than telling me what to do.”
121 Care General Manager Kym Chomley said her organisation took pride in offering individual choices of personal care for people with a disability.
“The clients pick their own carers and set their own rosters,” she said.
“We give them a real choice in how much responsibility and control they want to take for their own care plan.
“This helps them function as independently as possible in their ever-changing environments.”
Sarah Skelton is a Liaison Officer with 121 Care and Robert Ellis is the Treasurer for 121 Care’s management committee (board). Both have partial paraplegia as a result of circumstances that changed their lives.