Hamish’s story

This is Hamish’s story, as told by Hamish and his Dad:

20 years ago, on the 29th Dec 1997, Hamish was 8 weeks old when he was presented for his routine vaccinations. At the time he had a boil- like lump on his bottom, next to his anus.

This was presented to a GP who squeezed it and took a swab. He recorded this in Hamish’s notes as a possible perianal abscess. His advice was to go ahead with the vaccines as “this was one end, and the vaccine was the other”. Three days later the abscess was lanced and drained under general anaesthetic, leaving a gaping wound which was filled with faeces each time there was a bowel movement. A week later Hamish developed full blown polio. Due to the vast quantities of ever more virulent polio virus entering directly into his nervous system his little body was under extreme attack from the polio virus.

18 years later, Hamish has developed into a bright, articulate young “legend”. Unfortunately the polio has left him with no grip in his left hand, very weak shoulders, a severe scoliosis and legs that he “does not think about very often”. As he says: “They are there for show”. His body temperature control mechanism is “odd”. He can be ice cold and yet sweat at the same time. The colours his legs and feet can display are amazing.

The biggest frustration is that every time a medical professional is seen the standard response is that they have never seen a polio victim and do not know what to do. All the knowledge built up during the polio years has been lost, forgotten or not passed on. It appears to be very much a “Last Century Disease”.

After trying to manage his spine for over 10 year using bracing and spinal jackets as well as visiting numerous spinal specialists, in February 2011 Hamish had spinal rods inserted in his back. The procedure was very challenging. The spinal rods were secured to his spine from C2 to L5. While the scoliosis could not be completely corrected, it was secured in a much better position than it would have been and when upright against gravity it stopped the spine from collapsing downwards, thus increasing his height by over 3 inches.

The procedure went well.  However, the post-operative recovery was been very long, slow and difficult. There was no input from the physiotherapists as they are increasingly reluctant to perform any physical treatment on him. Fortunately we were advised to speak to a personal trainer who had been working with children in the area. Neil Harris is married to a physiotherapist and between them he came up with a physical exercise program for Hamish. Neil came to the house twice a week and worked very hard with Hamish to get him moving again. This was the best recovery program we could have hoped for and showed real improvement all round for Hamish.


In a chat with his Dad, this is Hamish’s take on the procedure and its aftermath:

Hamish: “Honestly it was worth having this operation because it has helped keep my back straighter and stopped me from having to wear a spinal jacket. I remember being in a lot of pain after the operation. It was difficult to get the right medication to ease the pain.”

Dad: “Did it ever stop the pain completely”? 

Hamish: “No, it did not ease the pain completely and I would have lots of very painful muscle spasms. I would also have a lot of pain when someone pressed too hard on parts of my body. It took ages to be able to get completely comfortable in bed.”

Dad: “What are the main differences now compared to before the operation.”

Hamish: “My back is straighter, I am taller, I cannot move as much as before like bending forward. I am now only hoisted, as being lifted is too uncomfortable. This has meant that I am more reliant on my hoists at home. I do not know how we will be able to go away or go on holiday without a hoist. But that will be Mum and Dad’s problem!”

Dad: “What helped your recovery the most?”

Hamish: “Resting in bed. Finding Neil, who is a personal trainer, helped a lot because he gave me regular back massages and when I could manage it he worked very hard with me to get me moving again. Neil understood the importance of building up my movement again and we did this with exercises and helping me to play sports in my own way.” 

Dad: “How do you view your future at the moment?”

Hamish: “I am not worried about the future. I know I want to work in the film industry. To achieve this I will have to do well in my A Levels.  *I will then go to University to get a degree in Media. I need to get into the best of the best so that I have the right environment to work in.”

Dad: “In the short term, what are your goals.”

Hamish: “Complete my A levels achieving the highest grades possible, learn to drive an adapted one hand controlled car and gain work experience. I am looking at taking a year off studying to achieve this and then next year I will go to University to start my degree.”

In December 2017 we can confirm that Hamish achieved all the short term goals he mentioned above except being able to drive. He has completed his first term at Falmouth University where he is studying for his BA (Hons) in Film.

As parents there remain many challenges to overcome in order to ensure Hamish can achieve his ambitions. We are finding that in many ways that we on our own as no-one seems to know how to deal with Polio anymore. It is very much a last century problem. There is constant pressure to put Hamish in the same category as Cerebral Palsy or other more common categories that are not relevant. Polio is polio, not some other convenient pigeon- holed category, as I’m sure readers of this article will agree.

We have to work completely outside the box as the early pioneers would have had to. But with Hamish around and the right financial support, that is what we will do and will achieve, I am sure.
31 December 2017

In the High Court, Hamish won a claim for compensation which would have ensured that his needs could be met for the rest of his life. But on appeal, in the High Court, this decision was reversed on a point of law and Hamish received nothing.

(Thompson v Bradford 2005 Court of Appeal Civil Division Nov 29 2005 EWCA 1439)