BBC Surrey Community Heroes Awards

BBC Surrey Community Heroes Awards

Image caption: (left) Gillian Ely at BBC Surrey Community Heroes Awards, (right) Judith Shrubb with husband, Paul and her BBC Surrey Community Heroes Award

A carer and a volunteer, who were nominated for the BBC Local Heroes Awards by Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care, have both won first place in their respective categories.

The Awards, which are held every year, recognise and celebrate the contributions of local heroes in the community, and staff at Phyllis Tuckwell felt that Judith Shrubb, the carer of one of their patients, and Gill Ely, a volunteer on the Hospice’s In-Patient Unit, deserved recognition for their unwavering dedication and commitment to helping others.

Judith cares for her husband Paul, a Phyllis Tuckwell patient who has been living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) for over ten years. MND attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord, stopping messages from reaching muscles and leading to muscle weakness and wasting. Initially Paul needed help with washing, shaving, dressing and toileting, but now also needs help with eating and drinking, can only walk short distances, and has found his speech is affected too. Judith also looks after her 86 year old mother and, for ten years before his death in 2012, also cared for her dad, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. And as well as supporting her husband and mum, Judith also looks after her grandchildren after school and during the holidays.

Phyllis Tuckwell staff also nominated Gill Ely, a volunteer who has helped at the Hospice since 2013, where she serves teas on the In-Patient Unit (IPU), picks up shifts to cover other volunteers if they are off, and helps at the physiotherapy exercise class too. A former nurse, Gill spent many years at a Missionary station in Zambia, running clinics for local people. Now retired, she volunteers for four local charities – Sue Ryder, the Thursday club, Phyllis Tuckwell and Swimability. She also volunteers for a charity in India which cares for around 40 mentally and physically disabled children who have been abandoned because of their disability. There is no doctor there, and when Gill goes over she is the only nurse; when she is not there the children have no medical care. Gill goes to India from the end of February to the end of July each year, helping to ensure the children are as well-fed as they can be before the winter months arrive. She has learnt basic Hindi, so can ask the children if they feel ill or are in pain, but as most of them can’t speak, “we get by on gestures, pointing, smiles and cuddles,” she says.

“We are delighted that both Judith and Gill have been recognised as local heroes, and won first prize in their categories,” said Sarah Brocklebank, Chief Executive at Phyllis Tuckwell. “Our volunteers and carers are amazing, and strive selflessly to help others who are living with a terminal illness. We have nearly 1,000 volunteers at Phyllis Tuckwell, all of whom we support through training and induction days, and many carers who we look after throughout their time with us, through support groups, counselling, pamper days and practical advice.”

“To be nominated was amazing, but to win was even more so – I still can’t believe it!” said Judith. “I feel humbled. There were so many amazing people at the Awards ceremony – they all deserve awards, they’re all brilliant. […] You don’t think about it, it’s just what you do,” said Gill. “If someone needs help, you just do it.”

 Here are the entries…

BBC Surrey Community Heroes Awards Category: Volunteer of the Year
(Awarded to a person or group who gives up their time voluntarily to help out a charity or good cause.)
Entry: Gillian Ely

Gill has volunteered at Phyllis Tuckwell since 2013, helping serve teas to patients on the Hospice In-Patient Unit (IPU). She volunteers every Friday and frequently picks up shifts to cover other volunteers if they are off.

“I started as a ward clerk,” says Gill, “but I wanted more patient contact, so I moved to teas. I’m also going to start helping at the physiotherapy exercise class too, which is offered to out-patients who want to build up their muscle strength and stamina.”

Gill is used to patient contact, having started a career in nursing at the age of 18. She was brought up as a Roman Catholic and was inspired as a child when a missionary came to her school, to talk about his work in Africa. Determined to follow a similar path, Gillian qualified as a nurse and applied to work in a Missionary station in Zambia. She was accepted and stayed there for two years, the only nurse at the mission, running clinics for the local people and making visits to villages in the surrounding area.

“It was amazing there,” she says. “It was so basic, they just didn’t have the equipment that we have. I had to continually think on my feet, improvising and making do. It really makes you realise how much we have here in the West.”

When she returned to the UK, Gillian was offered a job at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, where she worked for a number of years before returning to Zambia. She also spent time working in Uganda and Malawi, staying in Africa for nine years in total.

Gill retired from nursing ten years ago, but is still as busy as ever, volunteering for four local charities as well as a charity in India.

“I help out at my local Sue Ryder shop two mornings a week,” she says, “sorting the donations and talking to customers. Then I help at the Thursday club, which is a social club held on Thursday evenings. On Fridays I volunteer at Phyllis Tuckwell, serving teas on the IPU, and on Saturday mornings it’s Swimability, which is a swimming club for disabled adults and children.”

“I love volunteering – you meet such nice people. You’re all likeminded; you’re all there for the same reason. I really enjoy the contact I have with the patients at Phyllis Tuckwell. They’re amazing; their attitude and sense of humour are incredible and it makes me feel so fortunate. I was out shopping one day and a lady came over to me and ‘you’re the person at Phyllis Tuckwell who came in to talk to me and my husband when he was dying’. She recognised me from the IPU. It’s a privilege to be with people during that precious time and it makes such a difference to them – they remember it.”

“When I retired, I decided I was going to do something for myself,” Gill continues. “So I contacted a UK-based voluntary organisation and went to India for 6 months, to help at a home for mentally and physically disabled children.” The children at the home Gill volunteers at have all been abandoned because of their disability. There is no doctor there, and when Gill goes over she is the only nurse; when she is not there the children have no access to medical care at all.

The home cares for around 40 children. As they have all been abandoned, no-one knows their actual ages, but from dental records it seems that the oldest is about 12, although they are all very small for their ages due to malnourishment and, in particular, a lack of protein in their diets. They will have to remain there for the rest of their lives; they won’t be able to leave when they become adults as they would not be able to live independently.

Gill has been volunteering at the charity for ten years, and for the last five of those has been the only volunteer there. Only one of the staff at the home can speak English, so Gill has learnt basic Hindi, which means that she can ask the children if they feel ill or are in any pain. “Most of them can’t speak anyway,” she says. “We get by on gestures, pointing, smiles and cuddles.”

Gill goes to India from the end of February to the end of July each year, helping to care for the children and ensure they are as well-fed as they can be before the winter months arrive.

“I love it there, I absolutely love it,” she enthuses. “We live in a country of such excess here, it really brings it home to you. You give these children two biscuits and it’s as if you’ve given them the world.”

Gill’s dedication to helping others is admirable enough in itself, but even more so when you learn that she suffers from cerebral amyloid angiopathy – a neurological condition in which proteins build up on the walls of the arteries in the brain, increasing the risk of a haemorrhagic stroke and also of dementia. Two years ago, probably as a result of her condition, Gill suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage – bleeding in her brain. She was in the UK, having just returned from India, when her hand suddenly started twitching and clawing. The spasms continued up her arm and into her face, stopping for a short time and then starting again, a total of four times. Gill went to A&E where an MRI scan revealed the haemorrhage. She was also told she had focal epilepsy, because of the haemorrhage. Since then, Gill has suffered seizures in her hands, a numbness on the left-hand side of her body, and a loss of balance. She hasn’t been able to drive and last year wasn’t able to go to India. This year she managed to go, but only for one month, instead of four.

“I didn’t achieve as much as I wanted to as I was only there for a short time,” she says. “But my family were worried about my health and didn’t want me to stay out there any longer.”

“I might go back again later this year though,” she smiles, thinking about the children there. “I miss it so much when I’m not there. When the children see me they’re so excited, they come over to hug me – it makes you think ‘this is worth it!’ One boy there – Vichal – he’s a tetraplegic, and we recently bought him a new walking frame so he can walk around the compound on his own. The joy on his face was phenomenal, because it was brand new and it was his, and you think ‘yes, that’s a good result!’”

We have nominated Gill for this award because, not only does she have to cope with her own medical condition and the impact which that has on her health and independence, but she has dedicated her whole life to helping others, both as a nurse and as a volunteer. At a time when many people are winding down to enjoy a quiet retirement, Gill has refused to stop doing things for other people. Even her decision to “do something for herself” actually sees her helping other people. She is a strong, determined and vibrant person, and her compassion for and dedication to others deserve to be recognised.

BBC Surrey Community Heroes Awards Category: Carer Award
(Someone who cares for an individual or group of people on a regular basis.)

Entry: Judith Shrubb

Ten years ago, Judith’s husband Paul was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, a progressive illness which attacks the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, stopping messages from reaching muscles and leading to muscle weakness and wasting.

“It was his arms which were affected at first,” remembers Judith, “so he needed help with washing, shaving, dressing, toileting, that sort of thing.” Judith became Paul’s primary carer and, as his illness progressed and his strength and movement became increasingly restricted, he began to rely on her more and more.

Paul had owned and run a cleaning business, but was forced to take medical retirement some years ago. His illness has now progressed to the point where his neck is affected and he is unable to keep his balance, meaning that – although can still use his legs – he can only walk short distances. “Sometimes his neck just gives way,” says Judith. “He can walk a short distance with help, but most of the time he uses his wheelchair. He needs helps with feeding as well now. His arms have gone too and his speech is going – that’s happened over the last year. He was choking last night, so I was up in the night helping him.”

As well as caring for Paul, Judith also looks after her 86 year old mother, who lives with them. “We’ve lived together for the last 30 years,” Judith says. “We all got on so well – me, Paul, our four daughters, and mum and dad – that Paul suggested we buy a house together.” Judith’s mum has COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a condition which causes her airways to become inflamed and the air sacs in her lungs to become damaged, leading to breathing difficulties. She also has kidney disease and needs a new heart valve, and two months ago had two mini-strokes, which she is still recovering from. “She still cooks for herself and wants to drive again once she has full recovered, but at the moment she needs me to drive her to medical appointments and to the supermarket,” says Judith.

This isn’t the first time Judith has been a carer though. For ten years before his death in 2012, Judith cared for her dad, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. Giving up her jobs at a bakery and as a school dinner lady, Judith nursed him through his illness, as well as giving him constant care for five months after he underwent an operation to replace a heart valve.

As well as caring for her husband and mum, Judith also looks after her grandchildren. “We’ve got four children, all girls,” says Judith. “There’s Donna, she’s the eldest and she’s got a daughter now too, called Charlotte. Lyndsey is our second eldest, and she’s got two children, Paul and Lexi. Haley is our third, she’s got a daughter called Maddison, and Carly is our youngest, she still lives at home with us. The others live nearby and I collect Charlotte and Maddison from school three days a week, and look after them. Donna and Haley both work, so they need my support with the childcare. We have all four grandchildren during the holidays too, and then there are the evening babysits.”

As well as caring for so many people in her family, Judith also does the housework and gardening. Her daughter Carly, who used to be a carer, helps to look after Paul and Judith’s mum and Lyndsey’s stepson, Thomas, helps with the gardening, but Judith manages most of it herself. “She’s always been one to get stuck in and do a job if it needs doing,” smiles Paul. “I used to play football and one day I came back from training to find her up a ladder painting the outside of the house – it was that high!!”

Judith’s caring nature and remarkable energy are impressive enough as it is, but are even more so when we hear that she suffers from Fibromyalgia, a long-term condition which causes pain all over the body, extreme tiredness and muscle stiffness. “It feels like my nerve endings are all on the surface of my skin,” she says. “I experience a lot of pain and lots of aches, especially in my shoulders and hips. I’ve had it for 20 years but it’s got worse lately, with work, stress, age, and general wear and tear.”

We have nominated Judith for this award because she has been a carer for so long, for so many people, and all the time whilst living with her own painful medical condition. Her capacity for giving and helping others is inexhaustible, and she smiles and is positive through it all.

“Her dad would be really proud of her,” nods Paul. “She has done everything.”