STUART ANDERSON talks to Portchester resident Michael Powell about living with cerebral palsy, overcoming challenges and his new standing wheelchair
IT’S A simple action that most of us take for granted - standing up.
But Michael Powell, who is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, knows how lucky he is just to be able to stand and look someone in the eye.
The 24-year-old has a new £9,800 wheelchair which can transform - lifting him out of his seat and into a standing position.
Michael, from Portchester, said: ‘Without this wheelchair I would probably be bedridden right now.
‘Every day I wake up and I’m grateful I’m still here and I have the support that I do.’
It’s been a long path to success for Michael, who was put up for adoption by his mum in Birmingham just after he was born.
He was adopted by David and Julianna Powell a few months later, and the family moved south in 2004.
Michael said: ‘I was born two months premature and had a head bleed at birth which resulted in me contracting cerebral palsy.
‘It turns out that the left side of my brain is completely dead - all of the fine motors and things are pretty much non-existent.’
The condition hasn’t affected Michael’s mental capacity but it has given him physical challenges to face.
He said: ‘I’ve had hip operations - metal bars put in my hips to try to straighten the hip bone.
‘They were trying to get me to walk but nothing seems to be working.
‘I’ve had extensive physiotherapy to be able to do what I do now which is crawl around the floor at home and use the chair when I’m out and about.’
Michael got his first standing wheelchair about 10 years ago. He said that while the price tag seems steep at the time, it was far cheaper than the £30,000 Scandinavian manufacturers were asking for a similar model.
He said: ‘My first wheelchair was a bog standard motorised model provided by the NHS.
‘But I had a twisted pelvis which meant that I was always slouching out of the chair, so my spine would be curving.
‘Doctors felt it would be beneficial for me to have a standing wheelchair so I could stretch my muscles and have greater manoeuvrability.’
He said it has improved every aspect of his life.
michael said: ‘I don’t want to be too graphic, but it has helped even to the point where it means I am able to go to the toilet properly.
‘Without it I don’t know where I would be.’
Michael said he had problems with speech when he was young, and couldn’t speak until he was five or six.
But with thanks to speech therapy his education got underway and he went to Futcher school and then Mary Rose School, before moving onto South Downs College.
He topped off his learning by graduating with a bachelor of science in marketing from Southampton Solent University in November last year.
Michael said: ‘I’m really proud of my efforts when you consider where I started having started from essentially a special school.’
He has also found a full-time job at the university, helping to develop its social media programme.
Wheelchair has changed my life
Michael has now paid off all but £300 of the cost of the ‘standing wheelchair’ made by the firm EasyRide, which is based in Telford in the Midlands.
He said the demand for specialist equipment for people with disabilities was increasing, but funding for such wheelchairs was not covered by the NHS.
Michael said: ‘I think local governments and charities need to be aware that there is the demand for support from people both locally and nationally for this sort of equipment.
‘I don’t think there’s enough of a profile for it.’
Groups which have pitched in to help Michael pay for the wheelchair include the Fareham Lions Club and the Steve Willis Training Centre.
Michael said he would like to see charities focus more on providing specialist equipment to the disabled.
‘Nobody has £9000 sitting in their bank ready to just throw at a specialist piece of equipment
‘I’ve had a couple of whip arounds from friends and colleagues but because of the lack of funding and lack of funding opportunities we really had to scrape most of the money together from our savings and it has been really difficult.’
Michael said he was happy to talk to anyone who wanted to talk about the standing wheelchair and the challenges he has faced in his life.
He said people could call him on 07905 375 873 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winning hearts and minds
Michael said the biggest challenge he has had to overcome is ‘disability stigma’.
He said: ‘People think that if someone can’t walk, he can’t talk so it’s going to be difficult to communicate. Many people want to judge a book by it’s cover, but I think that’s changing.
Michael said the success of Britain’s paralympic games in 2012 had gone a long way towards changing people’s perceptions.
He said: ‘It made people realise that this person might only have one arm or one leg or is in a wheelchair but they’re out there they’re wanting to make a difference, achieve and succeed. ‘That’s all I’ve set out to do in life - make a difference and change the perspectives of people with disability for the better.’
Michael is a keen sportsman himself and captains a Hampshire Disability Cricket Club ‘Incrediball’ side.
He said the standing wheelchair has made it easier for him to be accepted.
‘Another benefit is being able to socialise with friends and colleagues on and I to eye-to-eye level.
‘I know that sounds like a really minimal thing but it makes the world of difference because people see you in a different light. It really helps with developing relationships and developing self-confidence within myself.’