Name: Gillian Fowler
Company: Backstrong Adventures
Light at the end of the tunnel?
An Aberdeenshire businesswoman who broke her back in a horse-riding accident 2008, and has overcome short-term paralysis and numerous surgeries, has set up a charity to support people with ‘invisible’ spinal conditions.
Gillian Fowler, is a business woman from Stonehaven, and is the founder of BackStrong Trust, a charity to provide information and support to help those who live with a spinal condition or are adapting to living with a serious back injury but are able to walk. Gillian also owns a marketing and communications business.
She launched BackStrong Adventures, which specialises in outdoor adventures and activities, last year and successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year as part of a fundraising initiative for this new charity. BackStrong Adventures is now a fundraising partner for the charity, where proceeds from various overseas and UK trips will be donated to the trust.
Malcolm Wright OBE, chief executive of NHS Grampian, and Niall Craig, Gillian’s consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon until 2014, have both been appointed to the BackStrong Trust board as trustees.
Gillian’s own experience following her accident in 2008, which saw her temporarily paralysed and facing a long road back to fitness, prompted her to want to help others in a similar situation. “With 80% of the population at some point suffering back problems during their lives, and approximately 30million absence days being recorded each year due to this problem, it’s a serious issue. After my accident and spinal surgery, I found there was a wealth of information and support available for people who have sadly been paralysed as a result of a traumatic injury, but a huge lack of resources for those like me, who have an ‘invisible’ spinal injury/condition, live with the resulting chronic pain, yet have mobility albeit with some limitations. After enduring years of operations, other invasive medical treatments and physiotherapy, I have spent a lot of time searching for information so I can better understand conditions, and how to improve quality of life. Hence why BackStrong Trust has been founded.” she said.
“BackStrong Trust is a small charity but every penny raised will help us to make a big impact both locally and nationally, including hosting support groups, offering access to trained ‘buddies’ who have gone through a similar experience, organising walks, running awareness campaigns, and offering health and wellness breaks. Our website also signposts to help that exists through other charities and organisations. Our fundraising partner, BackStrong Adventures, will also assist with fundraising, as proceeds from various UK and overseas trips will be donated to the Trust.”
Time off work after a back injury can lead to loss of confidence and sometimes loss of job or earnings, while problems sitting in hard or upright chairs can make going out for meals or to the theatre more difficult and exacerbate the social isolation that many patients feel. Gillian’s former surgeon, Mr Craig, spends most of his working life treating people suffering from significant back pain and spinal injuries.
He believes there is a need for better information to be made available. “It can be a lonely, painful and very scary place to be suddenly stuck in hospital, often on bed rest for some time,” he said. “Although we explain the situation and treatment plan to people, we often don’t have the time to just sit down and talk to allay their fears fully. I was pleased to become a trustee and help improve awareness of the problems facing people with spinal injuries. Just because the injury hasn’t paralysed you it doesn’t mean that you don’t face a long, painful and often frightening recovery. I hope the support groups and buddy scheme will allow them to talk to others who have been through the same so that they know they are not alone. If surgery is required then that is only the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of the recovery period.”
Mr Craig added: “Hopefully the information will enable people to see the light at the end of the tunnel to allow as full a recovery as possible so that they can look forward to a happy, fulfilling future rather than becoming depressed by the injury and their ongoing symptoms.”
NHS Grampian’s chief executive Malcolm Wright said: “My work in the health service has given me an in-depth understanding of how important information and support is in helping people take positive steps to improve their health and lives. I am very committed to this, and I see BackStrong Trust as playing an important part in helping the thousands who have such chronic spinal conditions.”
For more information or to discuss fundraising opportunities, visit www.backstrong.org.uk