My name is Phil Birch and in 2013 it was discovered that I had a brain tumour, which I had removed at St.George’s Hospital in London. Following that operation I left hospital after 3 days, and returned to work gradually after 3 months.
In November 2016, I suffered an unexpected Grand Mal seizure – an MRI scan revealed that the tumour had regrown, and that further surgery was required. There was a long build up to the 2nd operation during 2017 as I was led to believe that the tumour was slow growing and I would have the same recovery and outcome as the first time round. I had surgery to remove the brain tumour in August 2017………..but the tumour had returned more aggressively than anyone expected this time and had gone down the falx (between the 2 halves of the brain), and following the operation there were serious complications which left me suffering from a very rare syndrome called Supplementary Motor Area syndrome (SMA) – I was completely paralysed and in intensive care, not able to speak, move, swallow or eat. I remained in hospital for a further 5 weeks, needing to be hoisted out of my hospital bed every day and pushed around in a wheelchair. This is when I first met Helen Lindfield when she was sent for as a specialist to see what she could do for me whilst I was in hospital as part of my daily physiotherapy sessions.
Once I was out of hospital, the hardwork really started – I had come home in a wheelchair and had to learn to move all my limbs and walk again. This was achieved with the support of Helen’s specialist Neuro Physio service called ‘Heads Up’. I went for sessions every weekday for 8 weeks at their rehabilitation centre in North Holmwood . I don’t know how, but I went in for my first 1 hour therapy session with Helen in a wheelchair and during that session she got me standing up, and by the end of the first week I was walking, albeit slowly and with a crutch! Helen tells me it was all about getting the messages in the brain sent to the right place in my body (i.e. in this case my legs) to get them moving again – to me it was nothing short of a miracle! I went in to ‘Heads Up’ every day for 8 weeks for 1 hour therapy sessions working hard with Helen and the team to improve all the areas of my body which weren’t receiving the messages from my brain – predominantly down the right side of my body. Sometimes Helen would come out for a home visit to advise me and the family on how to get in and out of bed, or climb the stairs and get in and out of the shower. She would also come to the gym where I was starting off with a gradual physical rehab programme. I enjoyed being able to send videos showing Helen and the ‘Heads Up’ team the progress that I was making!!
The next phase of my treatment and recovery was to have Radiotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea every day for a further 6 weeks. I was bolted to a hospital bed wearing a specially created mask which had been moulded around my head so the Radiotherapy could be highly targeted at the remnants of the brain tumour. The Radiotherapy was very tough and it left me very fatigued, especially towards the end of the 6 week period.
I returned to ‘Heads Up’ at their new specialist facility in Newdigate and the road to recovery is slowly but steadily continuing. I continued to work with the Physios there on areas of my body which still had issues remaining after the surgery. Helen also continued regular home and gym visits to help with my ongoing rehab outside of ‘Heads Up’, and to give me some exercises to stretch myself further. In April 2018 I also completed a 1k run with Emma from ‘Heads Up’ in their car park!!!
Helen had also referred me to The Wolfson Centre in Roehampton for some specialist Vocational Rehabilitation and some cognitive assessments. As a result of these tests and to fire up the Neurons in the brain, I put a ‘readiness for work’ timetable together which included learning to play Bridge and playing Badminton, as well as travelling up to Roehampton independently once per week to review my old job description, and think about what I could work on as part of the next phase which is called ‘rehab in the workplace’, and what I am currently just getting going with as I write this (March 2019).
It has been a really long journey from walking into the Operation theatre at 8.30am on 8th August 2017, to waking up in Intensive Care, and then spending the next 18 months supported by Helen and the ‘Heads Up’ team to get back to independent living, and subsequently into the workplace which is where I am now. I have also been lucky to have an incredibly supportive wife and family unit around me and I think this whole thing has been harder for them as they saw someone they love not really know what was going on in Intensive Care and having to be hoisted out of a hospital bed every day for 5 weeks, to coming home in a wheelchair and no longer being the head of the household, as they were previously used to. However, I think that it has also been an inspiration for me to see what I could achieve with Helen and the team. I was also spurred on by the special events that I knew were taking place in 2018 after the operation including my son’s 21st birthday and his graduation, as well as the ‘Call to The Bar’ celebrations for my daughter and her wedding – I needed to be able to walk her up the aisle and give the Father of the Bride speech which was a miracle compared to where I had been 13 months earlier……I got through it, and got a standing ovation on a very emotional day in October 2018.
I want to say a massive thank you to Helen and the ‘Heads Up’ team for all their support – you are all incredible people who gave me confidence, and kept me motivated through some dark days of ups and downs which I went through to keep me positive and determined to see what I could achieve. They didn’t just support my physical rehabilitation, but they also supported me emotionally, keeping my spirits up and made me believe that I could improve……….which I did!!!