When someone gets a spinal cord injury (SCI) they need a lot of care. In Victoria, care can be found in a range of places. Austin Health in Heidelberg and the Royal Talbot in Kew treat both inpatients and outpatients with intensive and supportive rehabilitation. Gone are the days where patients had little chance to live long, satisfying lives. Thankfully, today there is a very extensive network out there that can help.
Peter van Benthem is a quadriplegic and works as a mentor providing information and peer support at Royal Talbot. He says,
Ten to 15 years ago those with SCIs were destined to go home after their injury and spend their days watching TV. This has changed so much with many opportunities and rights for people with spinal cord injuries to help reach their goals and more.
In the 12 years I've worked in the health industry I have seen the change and high achievement. Many just get on with a good life. Attitude and support for people with spinal cord injuries has changed and those who want to return to work are now in the majority, he says.
Spinal cord injury
There are two types of spinal cord injuries, complete and incomplete. A complete injury is where there is no sensation or voluntary movement below the level of the injury. Where there is some functioning below the level of injury it is known as an incomplete injury. For instance, the person may be able to move one limb more than the other, feel parts of their body but can't move them, be able to move one side of the body or even walk.
Services and possibilities
Peter works for AQA , a not-for-profit organisation that provides access to a network of people who are living with a spinal cord injury. AQA is in Fairfield, Melbourne and its key role is in sharing information for people with similar problems. It also services the Barwon region and Tasmania. Its peer support program is a support network mainly for people with a spinal cord injury. AQA has a strict code of ethics and confidentiality. It employs others, like Peter, who have spinal cord injuries.
Peter says there are many important things about his role as mentor, including engaging with people with a new spinal cord injury in rehabilitation. He aims to empower them towards hope.
The people I meet are faced with huge life changes. Most find it difficult and cannot see their future because they are unaware of their possibilities.
It is vital to listen to individuals who are challenged by their future and find out what is important to them. For example, feeling valued with a spinal cord injury, living in the community with a spinal cord injury ... getting back into life, such as hobbies, work, leisure, sports.
The mentor shares experience
Peter deals with approximately 80 clients from Royal Talbot, Austin Health and also from Caulfield Rehabilitation.
We may allocate clients four or five people that can help in various ways, and they call them once per month to see if they need anything.
He says AQA has trained 30 to 40 mentors who are matched up with patients based on location, injury and interest.
Mentor roles are varied. Some mentors provide insight into specific tasks or activities, such as using a piece of equipment to enhance independence. Others deal with a patient's vision or their future. The mentors are dedicated to working with patients to build satisfying lives again.
My role as a mentor is highly individualised. Providing people who are new to spinal cord injury with information from my own life experience empowers people to become aware of the possibilities in their own life, says Peter.