Celebrate volunteers at annual Awards for Excellence ceremony

Live Well Stay Well volunteers, Fiona Baxter and Nigel Latham, were winners of the Volunteer of the Year Award at last year’s Isle of Man Newspapers’ Awards for Excellence. This is their story… When you are diagnosed with a chronic, life-changing illness, do you simply stay at home and feel sorry for yourself, or do you go out and try to help others in the same situation to get the very best out of their lives despite their conditions? Fiona Baxter and Nigel Latham took the latter course and became leaders on the Live Well Stay Well courses which are offered free to anyone over the age of 18 with a long term health condition. This might be any one of a wide variety of conditions including diabetes, heart failure, stroke, asthma, epilepsy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. The idea for Live Well Stay Well began at Stamford University in California in the late 1970s. It was in acknowledgement of the fact that people with a long term health condition benefit from support which is not just purely medical. ‘The health service is great, it goes so far, but people have to take responsibility for themselves as well,’ said Nigel. ‘They developed the course originally for people with arthritis but it soon became obvious that it doesn’t really matter what a person’s health condition is, everyone has similar issues that they have to deal with.’ Fiona added: ‘We all have different conditions but we’ve all got the same basic problems.’ The key element of the Live Well Stay Well idea is that these courses are better run by people who have long term health conditions themselves, rather than by clinical staff. ‘It works better because you’re experiencing what they are,’ said Nigel. It was when the idea came to the Isle of Man that it was given the name ‘Live Well Stay Well’ and Fiona was one of the first to complete the course, both on her own account and with a view to becoming a leader and helping others. Fiona was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (which is not just an older person’s illness) 16 years ago. ‘At first I just gave into it,’ she said. But things changed when she became a Live Well Stay Well leader. She took the first course that was offered on the island, along with Norman Kneen who also had health issues. Both of them had extra training with a view to becoming course leaders themselves. Fiona said: ‘I wish the course had been around when I was first diagnosed. It gave me a purpose in life, to help someone else – it’s a nice feeling at the end of the course to see them all smiling and happy.’ Nigel’s condition took a long time to be diagnosed, this is often the case and adds to people’s worry and uncertainty: when he began falling over and having problems with his hearing and sight, it was initially thought to be MS, then ME, but was finally decided to be a ‘functional neurological disorder’. He said: ‘When you are diagnosed with a long term illness you know you’re either going to go down or up. There comes a point when you think: “I’m either going to jump off a bridge or I’m going to do something about it”.’ He also trained as an instructor in the Live Well Stay Well methods and he says: ‘As a leader, by actually running the course, you’re helping yourself too.’ Around 80 people have completed the course on the island and the results are impressive with 100 per cent of participants feeling more positive about living with a long term condition, and more than 85 per cent feeling more confident about their everyday activities, talking to health care professionals and their ability to participate in social events. Surprisingly, one of the issues than many people on the courses have to deal with is guilt. Nigel said: ‘A lot of people feel guilty because they have an illness that affects their family. They’re kind of blaming themselves. ‘You may be the main breadwinner, or the person who drives the kids around, and suddenly you can’t do that anymore so you feel like a complete failure.’ Sometimes people will need help in talking to their doctor, dealing with depression, fatigue and pain, or financial problems, and just talking can help a lot. Fiona said people were often quite quiet at the start of the course. ‘But by the end of the six weeks you can’t shut them up and they can’t wait for our next get together in three months’ time.’ Fiona said that winning Volunteer of the Year Award at the Awards for Excellence made them both feel that their work was appreciated, especially as they were up against other very worthy causes. And the benefit for Live Well Stay Well is the way it helps to raise the profile. Nigel said: ‘All the doctors on the island are aware of us but we still get people who say they haven’t heard of us – something like this really puts the name out.’ Do you know someone who works tirelessly for their chosen charity? Why not nominate them for the Volunteer of the Year Award at this year’s Isle of Man Newspapers’ Awards for Excellence? You will find full details of all the award categories and entry forms to download at www.excellence-awards.im

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