Standing tall

AUGUST 2000, Rebecca Grundy was a fun-loving, friendly 13-year-old. In an instant, her life changed forever when she was hit by the car of a speeding driver. The injury to her brain was so severe that, for seven weeks, she was only able to move her left thumb while in intensive care in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The driver of the car was found to be over the speed limit, driving without due care and attention.

Rebecca was also given a tracheotomy, a stomach operation and had surgery on her Achilles tendons. Following her stay in intensive care, she was moved onto a ward for six months. Her parents, Andrea and Carl, were with her everyday, and continually asked various doctors for help, but, unfortunately, there was nothing they could do to help their daughter. “They said we would have to accept that she would be bed-bound for the rest of her life,” Becky’s mum, Andrea, said.

Moved to a rehabilitation hospital for 11 months, Becky made little progress. Her parents began searching the internet for any help they could find. While looking on a site about villas in Portugal adapted for disabled people, they came across an advert for theraMAX. Based in Alte, theraMAX is a specialist rehabilitation gym for those affected by paralysis. Run by Jodi, clients receive regular and progressive exercise to optimise their fitness and functional mobility, as well as improving physical and psychological wellbeing, assisting them in attaining their true potential.

Andrea and Carl emailed Jodi and, in August 2003, brought Rebecca out to Portugal for her first session. In just one hour, they saw an amazing difference. “We knew we had to bring her back,” Andrea said.

But the cost of flights, accommodation and the therapy placed a serious drain on the family’s finances. Andrea completed a fundraising swim for Rebecca’s next visit and charities also gave donations, enabling them to carry on with the treatment.

“With each visit she gets better. We can’t believe how much progress she makes over here,” Andrea said. “There’s nothing like theraMAX back in the UK. Progress slows down when we get back home and we just haven’t got access to the equipment, but the improvement she makes in Portugal keeps us going in England.”

After the accident, Rebecca had to learn to talk again and the sessions with Jodi have improved her speech as well as her mobility. “We never thought we would see her doing what she is now. Seeing her stand was unthinkable a couple of years back and now she is on the treadmill! Becks really looks forward to each visit,” Carl commented.

Rebecca comes for three weeks of intensive exercise therapy, with sessions of three hours, five days a week, followed by six months back home in the UK. After the three hours, she is absolutely shattered, but it doesn’t dampen her humour – “If anything, she’s more cheeky now than ever!”

She keeps tabs on how many calories she is burning and ‘gasps for a pint’ when she gets off the treadmill. At 18, Rebecca is boy mad – “that’s what she really wants, she’d love to find a boyfriend,” Andrea said.

She does still struggle with the use of her right arm and there are occasional tears of frustration when she can’t do something. But, with Jodi’s encouragement and enthusiasm, and Becky’s determination to get better, they pull through the hard times. Back in Stoke-on-Trent, Becky attends college, where she receives 45 minutes of physiotherapy once a week, but “it’s nowhere near the standard she receives in Portugal”.

“Becky never mopes, she’s always happy, looking on the bright side of things,” Carl said smiling. “We’ll never give up. Even if she could just transfer herself from her chair to the bed on her own, we would be ecstatic.”

• The accident case is still working its way through the courts. Officials say that the driver was 60 per cent to blame.