Jude was injured at the age of 52 while horse riding. Aspire's Welfare Benefits Advisor provided general benefits advice and suggested a claim for PIP and later required assistance with appealing the decision. Jude is now receiving the Enhanced rate for Daily Living component of PIP which increases her monthly income.  

I am a retired estate agent. My husband also retired early, we had this most beautiful boat and we were really enjoying life together, doing lovely things and traveling to lovely places. My husband used to work for British Airways so we would get free flights and definitely made the most of it. My injury happened at a point in my life when I was having a really nice time. I was just out on a little riding hack. Nothing extraordinary happened. I just had an accident and broke my neck.

I was taken to John Radcliffe hospital and I was there for two weeks before being transferred to Wexham Park Hospital. I was then discharged home for 10 days before being admitted to the Spinal Injury Centre in Stanmore and I was there for about five weeks. It was a mixed experience, there wasn’t anybody in Stanmore who was a walker; everyone was a paraplegic. My main issue is my upper body and my hands, that’s where my real disability lies so I had a different experience to most people there.

I had to wear a collar and that really hampered everything. I couldn’t do the hydrotherapy, I couldn’t lift certain things. Even showering was very difficult because I couldn’t lift my arms up high enough to reach my hair.  I went to Stanmore with these great thoughts – ‘this will fix me’, ‘this is amazing’, ‘this is where things get better’, but in reality it is not that easy; from my experience rehabilitation isn’t really aimed at walkers.

Jude in her wheelchair with her dog

I went into Stanmore with huge and, I guess, unrealistic expectations because I had no idea what this Spinal Cord Injury meant until my first day.  Basically, I was told, “this is it, you’re not going to get much better, all the rehab in the world won’t bring your nerves back, you have to work with what you’ve got.” That was a massive blow, but at the end of the day you need to know the facts. For a long time, I did think there was hope; I thought I’d prove them wrong and get over this injury completely. I tried my hardest and did everything I could to do regain as much function in my hands as possible.  

Compared to the early days, I do give myself some credit now for what I am able to do. I used to really beat myself up if I didn’t do some form of exercise every single day. If I had a day off I used to be really hard on myself and feel terrible. Now I acknowledge how hard I work to push through the pain in my body. I do go out for a walk with the dogs every day, I do physio and two lots of yoga a week. I have a session with a personal trainer once a week, too. I’m about 18 months into this and I’m still doing everything I can.

My daughter is 30 now. At the time of my accident she and her boyfriend were living in Canada, but they were actually here when it happened because it was around the time of my niece’s wedding. They were supposed to fly back the day after the wedding, but she stopped here for an extra month until I went into Stanmore. They moved back to the UK in September to be with us.

Jude standing with a woman

Friends wise, they were all pretty amazing and my husband was - and is - amazing. They do so much for me all of the time. I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now if it wasn’t for the support around me, but in some ways it’s gone full circle now.

It’s been 18 months, the shock has worn off for people, and everyone has got their own lives to live which I understand. I don’t see much of friends anymore. I used to be very sociable, extremely outgoing and always up to something, but that has changed now and that can be difficult to accept sometimes.

I feel like I should return to some kind of work. I am just trying to figure out what I want and what I can do in terms of managing my pain and fatigue. I want to reach out and help people in the same situation as me; eventually I want to work with Back Up as a mentor, but at the moment things are still very up and down. I feel really strongly about wanting to do something for people with spinal cord injuries who can walk - be a voice or something, because the experience is completely different for us walkers.

Walking and walking my dogs was a massive thing for me prior to my accident. I always had an active day, was always busy doing something. Apart from pain, I don’t have issues with my legs so I can still enjoy walking and I think that has been my saving grace. I’ve got special magnetic leads for the dogs so I can walk them myself without worrying about not being able to clasp or unclasp the lead with my hands.  

Jude standing with her dog

I was referred to Aspire from Back Up.  It became clear that I was given the wrong information when I was in hospital. I was told that I wouldn’t qualify for PIP or the blue badge because I walked so well, so I just didn’t bother looking at benefits until I spoke to Hari, Aspire’s Welfare Benefits Advisor.  In the end my sister did my PIP application because I had so much else going on - at the time I was moving house and it was all stressful.

In hindsight, I wish I had contacted Aspire to do my PIP application in the first place, as they know the system so well. It took my sister about four days of writing because I can’t hold a pen well enough to write.

Aspire’s service is really good, especially for people like me who have no idea about benefits, and amazing for people that can’t do it at all - for people who haven’t got a sister who is willing to help or a network of support like I have.

When the decision came back the same as before, I was reluctant to ask a tribunal to look at it again. I really didn’t want to have to sit in front of a panel of strangers with no understanding of Spinal Cord Injury and be made to feel like I was lying about everything I struggle with, because that’s exactly how the PIP assessment made me feel.  But I had a good chat with Hari who said it was worth a shot and we agreed that we would cancel the appeal if I needed to go to court.

I wouldn’t have done this by myself, even though I knew deep down the decision was wrong. And again, until I spoke with Aspire everything had been so difficult, I had enough of it all. I am so pleased and grateful that you guys persevered with me because I would have let it go.

The PIP payments help hugely. The extra money is set aside and pays for my physio once a week and for me to have a personal trainer once a week in my house. Exercise helps massively with both my mental and physical health.

You can’t improve on Aspire’s Welfare Benefits Advice Service, it’s amazing. I’ve only got fantastic things to say about the team. That’s my completely honest opinion. I was absolutely thrilled with the result of the appeal even though I was doubtful it would work.

It’s not only been the support with the appeal, we’ve also had other conversations that have really supported me with other things going on. Sometimes it’s nice just to have a chat.  Aspire has gone above and beyond to help people like me. It’s refreshing and reassuring to know there are people who are willing to not only help, but to listen and want to find solutions to problems.

A simply thank you isn’t enough for what the team have both done. You have improved my quality of life, definitely.

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