Winston’s wife, Caroline, was paralysed following a spinal infection in January 2020, at the age of 58. She had been employed by the NHS as an Operating Department Practitioner for 20 years. Winston contacted Aspire’s Welfare Benefits Service for help shortly after Caroline was admitted to the Stanmore Spinal Injury Centre, who supported Winston to complete a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) application on Caroline’s behalf.  She has since been awarded the Enhanced rate for both components of PIP, increasing their monthly income.

It all happened over about a week. We had the weekend together, all very normal. On the Monday morning, Caroline woke up and said she had lost feeling in her left hand. I thought I’d take the day off to keep an eye on her because it was a strange thing to happen, but she didn’t feel unwell. The next day she woke up with a pain in her neck, but we thought she might have slept in a funny position. The pain got worse so I made an emergency appointment with the doctor who told us nothing was wrong, that it was probably just a pulled muscle.  

A day or two later, I came home late from work, but she wasn’t in bed. I found her on her back in the bathroom. She said she got up to use the toilet but her legs gave way. We’re still not sure whether she passed out, but she must have been on the floor for a few hours. I dialled 999 and that was the start of it all. She was taken to Queens in Romford and we had to start learning, quickly.  She was in hospital for about six months.

The doctors believe she had a spinal infection that was causing bone spurs along her spinal column and, when she fell, the spurs and fragments in the vertebrate caused damage to the spinal cord at her neck.  I was in complete shock and kept thinking, “it was just a pain in her neck. How could this happen from that?” I had no idea about spinal injury, none whatsoever, and I’m still learning about it now. I had no idea that the numbness in her hand and the pain in her neck would lead to anything like this.

I’d be lying if I said I never thought, “how are we going to survive this?” but the help we got from organisations like Aspire and the NHS is what saved us.  Aspire’s help has been amazing, I have been nothing but impressed.

Caroline and I have each other. She totally amazes me because I don’t think I would have dealt with this as well as she has. Considering what has happened to her - how her life has changed and how bad things were at the beginning - I think she is doing amazingly.

We agreed at the start, and it’s now our motto, that whatever happens we just have to make the best of it and do the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. We take it one day at a time. That’s the way we cope.

I was told to get in touch with Aspire when Caroline got to the Stanmore Spinal Injury Centre. I was in such a spin that I didn’t really know why I was calling or what I had to ask, but they took the lead and broke everything down. I remember telling Caroline after the call that we were going to be ok, because she was really worried about us losing work and money, because we still had bills to pay. I told her that we were going to get some good help from Aspire. You certainly listened to me for long enough, so I felt like you genuinely cared and I knew we were in safe hands.

Winston in his taxi cab

The advice was so helpful, every bit of it and every call.  As well as the advice, having someone to talk to was a help too. It’s always nice to hear a friendly voice, have a chat and to have someone ask how we’re doing.  They also referred me to Back Up and SIA - all of this support that I might have not found on my own.

If that PIP form had turned up and I had had no support, honestly I think would have stuck it in a drawer or thrown it away and just scraped by. It was too much with what was going on, and Covid really didn’t help the situation. I’m thankful that Hari, Aspire’s Welfare Benefits Advisor, did it with me because I was overwhelmed and stressed out. I’m 60 next week and have grafted since I left school at 16 so I’ve never had to do anything like that because I’ve never been out of work. I had absolutely no clue about the benefits system or doing these forms. I still don’t, but it doesn’t worry me now. It’s great to know that organisations and experts like yourselves are there because boy, did I need it and I’ll probably need you again.

I had no real idea about the level of care and help that she would need or what’s out there to help us move forward. I obviously read about spinal injury when it happened, but I didn’t fully realise what a spinal cord injury does until she was home. I was so ignorant. My main concern, and all I was thinking about, were her arms and legs not working. I didn’t really think about the bowel and bladder issues and how hard that is. I’d say that’s worse than not being able to use limbs.

These kinds of experiences help you to appreciate those that work to help people in this situation. It’s amazing and quite humbling because we were guided by people like yourselves to make this something we could cope with.

I’m a black cab driver and because of Covid I haven’t been able to earn or work the way I used to. At the moment I am just doing the odd shift simply to cover the rent of the taxi so I can be here for Caroline as much as I can, but obviously that doesn’t help our income.

The PIP money enables us to live, pay the bills and everything else that comes with losing work.  Covid has made all this so much harder, but until we’re further down the road with this injury and I figure out how I can work more, the PIP money takes away some stress. It does help us and we’re very grateful for it.  

Welfare Benefits Advice

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