Sheryn Logan will never forget the fateful Sunday last year when, without any warning, she lost all feeling in her legs.
She was alone at her home in Speewah, Kuranda, about a 50-minute drive from Cairns, just pottering around and doing a few chores, when she suddenly “felt a bit weird”. “I called my husband to make sure he was coming straight home from work, but then my legs just went from underneath me – I couldn’t feel them,” recalls Sheryn.
“It was very scary, but luckily I had the phone in my hand and was able to ring 000.”
Sheryn was taken to the Cairns Hospital where it was revealed she’d had a spinal stroke: a blood clot in the spine, cutting off blood to the nerves.
“They don’t know what caused it, it’s just one of those things that happens,” explains Sheryn. “It’s very rare, apparently, and left me with a T12 injury.”
She spent two months in the Cairns Hospital before being transferred to the PA Spinal Injuries Unit in Brisbane for a further five months. It was during that time Sheryn started working with Spinal Life Australia. It was her Support Coordinator, Alice, who – as well as doing everything from ordering equipment to looking after her NDIS account – suggested that Sheryn forget about going back to the Cairns Hospital, and head to Spinal Life Australia’s Healthy Living Centre (HLC) in Cairns instead. And that’s exactly what she did.
“My husband and I have been here for about two months,” says Sheryn. “It’s been so good; so much better than going back into hospital again. We’re staying in a spacious two bedroom unit, with a kitchen set up so that I can do the cooking from my wheelchair, a great bathroom and there’s even a café downstairs.
“We’re right on the Esplanade and we’ve got the waterfront just out the front. Every morning we sit on our balcony with a coffee and watch the sun rise, or we head down and go for a walk along the Esplanade. Brad pushes me in my chair and it’s just lovely.
“To me, being at the Healthy Living Centre feels like we’re on a holiday somewhere really nice.
“The best thing of all is that we don’t have to worry about hospital visiting hours. I’ve got lots of friends and family – my three children all live in Cairns – so we’ve hardly ever been on our own since we’ve been here! It’s been a big help to have them around to support me.”
But it’s not just her friends and family who have helped smooth Sheryn’s journey – she also sings the praises of her support team: “Everyone here at the Centre has been fantastic and looked after me so well”.
She has two sessions a week with her physio, Julie; one’s in the hydropool, which is a big hit with Sheryn who loves being in the water, while the other involves strengthening exercises in the gym.
“I’m in a wheelchair and have no feeling from just below my stomach and bottom, but I can actually stand up,” says Sheryn.
“I can’t feel anything, so I really have to watch my feet because I don’t know where they’re going to go, but I am sort of walking. When I was in the PA I tried to walk with a wheelie walker, but didn’t have any control over it. But Julie’s helped me and I can now use one, so I am making progress. I’ve been told it takes about four years to really know what you’ll be able to do and not do after an injury like this. In the meantime, these physio sessions are so important.”
Sheryn’s occupational therapist, Georgia, is another key member of the team. She’s been helping Sheryn with everything from trialling smooth drive on her manual wheelchair to getting everything organised so that Sheryn will be able to drive again.
But helping Sheryn get ready to move out of the Healthy Living Centre and into a new home is one of Georgia’s biggest roles.
“With all that’s happened we’ve decided to move from Kuranda and live in Cairns, so we can be closer to everything,” says Sheryn. “We’ve done a house swap with my son and his partner! They’ve moved up to our place in Kuranda and we’re moving in to their home in White Rock.”
Georgia is working with Sheryn and Brad to help make their new address more accessible. They’ve been going out to the house to determine what modifications are going to be needed, and Georgia has organised for builders to come in and give quotes. Then it’s time to start the NDIS
“We’ve only got about another three weeks here at the HLC before we move to the new place, and the home modifications are going to take about eight months,” says Sheryn. “So we’re going to be roughing it a bit at first!”
The beauty of working closely with personal support workers in the HLC, and really getting to know them and form close bonds, is that they’re the same team Sheryn will be working with when she moves into her new home. And while that might be happening a little faster than some might expect, Sheryn is keen to make the move and get back to “normal” life as much as possible, because she’s been working with Georgia and Tania from Spinal Life’s Back2Work program, to help achieve another major goal: rejoining the workforce.
“I work in an office for a food company, taking orders and doing invoicing, that sort of thing, and am heading back to do three hours a day, four days a week – I’m really looking forward to it,” says Sheryn.
“I’d just like to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, physios and OTs at the PA Brisbane and Cairns Hospitals, and of course to Spinal Life Australia for giving me the opportunity to stay at the Heathy Living Centre. After seven months in hospital, you really don’t feel like going back again! To be able to come here instead of going back to hospital was wonderful. I’m so grateful. When I first saw it, I just said to Brad: it’s like five stars for a person with a disability!”