I like to joke that the reason I am here today, doing what I’m doing, is that I wasn’t good enough to be a professional footballer. As a child and teenager, I was indeed football obsessed – the back garden muddy with use and the hedge behind my set of goal-posts battered senseless. My mum was a PE teacher and sports enthusiast and as it became apparent to her, if not at the time to me, that I was unlikely to make the grade on the football front, she gently pushed the notion of physiotherapy into my head, most likely while watching a Champion’s League mid-week match circa 1994. I was good with people, with good marks in science, and didn’t fancy a desk job, so the idea stuck.
Starting university in Edinburgh, I still had ideas about being Barcelona’s prized physio, getting their injured superstars back fighting fit in next to no time, but as my experience grew, I began to understand there was much more to physiotherapy than I’d realised. There were musculo-skeletal and sports-injury physios… and also a huge array of other specialities including cardiac, respiratory, orthopaedic and neurological. As many physios do, I worked in rotational posts, gaining a wide range of experience in different areas over a number of years. I began to see the impact that physiotherapy could have on people’s quality of life, and how rewarding and satisfying it was to be a part of it. The concerns of over-paid footballing superstars faded a little in comparison.
I’m not sure if I knew at the time what pushed me towards a career in neurological physiotherapy, but in retrospect it seems there were two huge influences on me. I met my now wife and business partner, Cassie, on the neuro-medical ward of Edinburgh’s Western Infirmary, and was blown away by her energy and love of life, as well as inspired by how she approached her work: her dedication to her patients; her skill at pushing them to do what they thought they couldn’t; how she seemed to manage to get inside their heads and inspire them to push themselves a little bit more; her caring nature. Okay, her love of dancing on a good night out was impressive too. Undoubtedly, in so many ways, Cassie’s influence was massive.
The other unarguable influence was again, my mum. It started to become obvious during my university years that there was something wrong with her health and after some time and tests, she was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. She had a pretty awful few years of significant physical and cognitive decline, and by the time I graduated, she was dependent on a wheelchair for her mobility and on my dad for many of her day-to-day activities. Thankfully her condition stabilised and she remained fairly consistent and content for many years after that. I’m still somewhat in awe of how my parents’ bond remained so fiercely strong, and I learned a lot from the tenacity and devotion my dad showed in the face of the challenges they had to deal with. I also saw how my mum clung to physical activity as a means, not only of maintaining her well-being, but also of gaining freedom and pleasure. Despite being unable to walk or transfer independently, when my mum got in a swimming pool she was unstoppable! I think she was blessed with just the right body composition that she floated with ease, and her arms could pull her along in a breast stroke motion, heading bobbing up and down, slow, steady and consistent, length after length, still going long after my dad had retired to the shallows. Being able to exercise was undoubtedly an enormous gift in her eyes, and she treasured it.
So, I suppose it was inevitable that I began to pay more attention to neurological physio, and the job opportunities in that area, and soon I accumulated a breadth and depth of neurological experience that enabled me to move into more and more senior positions within the NHS. I loved many aspects of working in the NHS and am hugely indebted to many of the fabulous therapists I worked with for sharing their knowledge and inspiration and for their friendship and collective spirit. However, there came a point where I began to feel conflicted. I had to fight harder and harder to make time to work clinically with people, and as my youthful innocence faded a fraction, I also began to see just how undervalued the clinical aspect of physio was in some areas and how self-serving and flawed some of the management practices were. I began to find myself in situations where NHS managers would be unhappy with me for recommending what I deemed to be the best course of treatment or most suitable equipment, simply because they could not provide or accommodate my recommendation. My motivation was always simple: what would my mum and dad want to know if they were in this situation? I needed to know that every patient was fully informed. If the NHS could not deliver then that was unfortunate, but the managers would have to deal with the complaints, and I hoped this might even give them more ammunition to campaign for better funding of therapy services.
I could see it was time for me to move on and, together with my wife, set about starting a private service for people with neurological conditions. Our vision ever since has been to empower every individual to optimise the management of their condition. As our team has grown, our vision has expanded with it: we want to provide our service to as many parts of Scotland as we can, to invest in and promote the use of rehabilitation technology that improves people’s quality of life, and to build a sense of community with our clients that encourages the development of life-long positive routines through peer support, social interaction and increased engagement in their local communities. We know that to do this we need to be exceptional employers that support and inspire our NeuroPhysio Scotland team to be the best they can be.
Our business recently turned 10 years old, and as much as I appreciate tapas and sunshine, I’m very glad I’m not plying my trade with Messi and co. in the Basque region; I think being a neurophysio is a much better fit. If you use our service, my hope is that you will have the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with an expert neurophysio who loves what they do and is supported to be the best they can be, so that they can focus on what matters most: helping you face your neurological challenges and reach your full physical potential so that you can enjoy a better, more fulfilling quality of life.
Good luck. May you find the resilience and strength you need to deal with whatever challenges you are facing.