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“It’s fantastic for me as a mum to see her play such a big part in her own future” – International Day of People with Disabilities, Taonga’s story

According to the WHO World Report on Disability, more than 1 billion people, are living with disability. This year on the International Day of People with Disabilities we are reminded of the importance of removing barriers for all people living with disability, both visible and invisible, to help empower them to live the best lives possible.

Iwona Huczkowska is senior physiotherapist in the Portsmouth Community Physiotherapy Team. She tells us about the work that she does to help the people in our communities to keep moving and live a meaningful life.

“I graduated in Poland and came to the UK in 2004 and started my career in 2006 as a physiotherapy technician. In 2007, I was offered Band 5 physiotherapist job and I’ve been working in Solent for over 13 years, gradually progressing from technician to band 7 physiotherapist within the Portsmouth Community team.”

Iwona continues: “I’m mainly community-based and specialise in elderly care, but I am also the specialist learning disability lead in the team. We see patients in their own home, with most being referred to us following a fall or they have long term conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis and need rehabilitation. We set them up with exercises to improve strength and balance, function and independence and can provide various equipment to make sure they can remain as independent as possible. Our main goal is to enable patients to remain healthy at home and improve their quality of life as much as we can.

“We also have a role in the management of people with Learning Disabilities (LD). They tend to be a bit more complex as patients might be fully dependent in terms of mobility. We look at various pathways of care to help improve their health, such as 24-hour postural management, looking at how they sit in a wheelchair and provide exercises that they can do with parents and carers.

“I took the lead specialist Learning Disability role in our team as it’s always been an interest of mine and something, I’m really passionate about. Keeping people, no matter what their condition or disability, healthy in their own homes is so important.

“As well as physiotherapy, we also look at the transition from paediatrics into adult care (the change from child to adult health services), which can be stressful and a big change for parents and patients. As their children grow into adults, it often becomes a strain from a moving and handling and therapy point of view adding to the carers’ stress. This is where we step in.

Iwona explains how one particular patient has made an everlasting impact. “I remember when I was working as a band 5 physio in paediatrics. I met a 10-year-old girl called Taonga, who has cerebral palsy. I helped a little with her case then, but a few years ago, now an adult, I met her again and started working on her case on a more consistent basis.”

Mum, Mary, a single parent, told us how grateful she is to Iwona and the team for the care they provide her daughter. “Taonga requires support with all areas of her wellbeing, physiotherapy being one such important aspect of her life. When she transitioned from child physiotherapy to adult in September 2018, she met Iwona, who has completely transformed her life.

“The transition was so smooth that Taonga's treatment was not disrupted in any way. If anything, she was having a lot more fun during the sessions, particularly when using the standing frame. The team constantly assess Taonga's needs, sources funds and provides the required treatment and equipment for Taonga to use both at college and at home.”

Iwona continues: “As well as mobility aids, we’ve also worked with our Occupational Therapy Team to organise for a ceiling track hoist to be fitted in her room, so she is able to get on/off the floor for a stretch and change of position. Previously, Mum, Mary, was moving her using a mobile hoist and it wasn’t safe for either of them, so getting that fitted has made a big difference to both of their lives.

When working in the community, the smallest of changes can have such a benefit to patients and their families’ lives.  “We’ve recently helped adjust her current home chair which has made a big difference.” says Iwona. “Because she doesn’t speak, she uses a special gaze movement technology which is programmed through her iPad and assists her with communicating.  She was finding it really difficult to use this in her old position, which was frustrating for her and mum as she couldn’t communicate as effectively. Taonga can now let us know what she needs much quicker which helps us to be able to provide her with the best care possible.”

Mary explains how important communication has been to the outcome of her daughter’s care: “Taonga, despite her communication challenges, has always been given an opportunity to contribute and indicate her preferences by Iwona. She has been involved in deciding treatment that was best and comfortable for herself and she really enjoys and appreciates this aspect of inclusion and choice – it’s also fantastic for me as a mum to see her play such a big part in her own future.”

Iwona leaves us with a final reflection on what working in the community means to her.  She says: “I know how much we are appreciated by our patients and their families - seeing them smile when they make progress or when we’ve helped enable them to be more independent, like Taonga, makes it all worth it. Working as a community physio is so varied and it has its challenges, but I feel privileged to be able to provide care to people who really need it.”

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