Back Up find new ways to support those with a spinal cord injury

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National charity Back Up has found innovative new ways to offer much needed support during lockdown.

Rich Osborn, 32, has been hosting video chats for those affected by spinal cord injury.  He has been teaching real-life skills needed for adapting to life as a wheelchair user.

The committed volunteer from South Queensferry, Edinburgh – who has a spinal cord injury himself – used to visit The Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow.

Here, he would help people rebuild their confidence and regain their independence after spinal cord injury.

He teaches vital wheelchair skills and through sharing his own experiences, discusses ongoing concerns inpatients may have during the rehab process. 

But when lockdown forced a stop to frontline support, the charity adapted and explored new digital opportunities. 

This includes wheelchair skill videos on YouTube, the development of a wheelchair skills app and hosting online patient forums, so people could still access vital support and resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rich, Back Up’s Outreach and Support Coordinator and Scotland, said: “I am determined to follow up on the amazing work of the NHS and help people make a positive adjustment after a life changing injury.

“I used to visit the spinal units in person but lockdown now prevents this, so utilising the internet seems the obvious and next best route. Regardless of Covid-19, people still need support.

“Suddenly having to adapt to life as a wheelchair user is a daunting experience and there’s simply not enough resources out there for people in need, so we’re trying to bridge that gap.”

Rich was paralysed after a scuba diving accident in 2009 – as he was returning to the surface nitrogen bubbles expanded in his T4 vertebrate, a disorder called decompression sickness, which had a damaging effect on his central nervous system. He is now a full time wheelchair user.

However, he does not allow his injury to stop him living a full life and, thanks to a new partnership between Back Up and Digby Brown Solicitors, he can continue to devote his time to helping others adjust positively to spinal cord injury.

Rich added: "Our webchat session “Ask Us Anything” provides tailored support to inpatients in centres and all questions are encouraged. I enjoy facilitating the sessions because I’ve experienced it all myself first-hand. I know how much of a valuable resource this is for individuals going through such a big change in their lives. 

“I just want to help people be active, confident and independent, showing them there is still life after a spinal cord injury.”

Chris Stewart, Partner at Digby Brown and Head of the Serious Injury department, said: “The work carried out by Rich and his colleagues at Back Up is both admirable and vital.

“Every day we see first-hand how people’s lives change as a result of serious spinal cord injuries and we are passionate and committed to ensuring each person has access to the medical, pastoral and legal care they deserve.”  

Abigail Lock, Chief Executive of Back Up, added: “Our fantastic staff and volunteers, like Rich, have a spinal cord injury themselves so they understand what support and advice newly injured people need to know.

“While we usually run these sessions face to face at hospitals across Scotland and at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow, we are pleased to be able to still find ways to teach vital skills and help build the confidence of newly injured people during the Covid-19 pandemic.”