Former media makeup artist Anita Nickson says regular Life Leisure gym sessions prescribed by her doctor helped save her life, after she developed a serious auto immune disease.
Anita, 50, from Stockport became a weekly visitor to the gym after being referred to the Life Leisure PARiS scheme by her GP when she was diagnosed with Pyoderma Gangrenosum (PG). It involved sessions with Life Leisure’s Paul ‘Rocky’ Lindley, an expert physical activity coach for people with chronic health conditions.
“I first met Anita when she attended her initial PARiS consultation at Avondale,” says Paul. It was evident from the start she’d been through some extremely challenging health issues but I noticed straight away how determined she was to improve her health.”
PG causes deep wounds in the body that are difficult to heal due to corruption of the immune system. Over the past eight years, Anita has been crippled by osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, and after she developed a deep pyoderma wound on her ankle, underwent a battery of life-saving treatments. She was admitted to hospital 29 times, had 22 different drugs, four blood transfusions, 11 cycles of biological chemotherapy, steroid-induced type 2 diabetes, eight blood infections and post-traumatic stress disorder. The wound took six years to heal, and she was admitted to hospital as an emergency three times, after her femoral artery burst. Combined with the arthritis, it meant that she had to use a wheelchair, frame and crutches to get around.
Now she is launching a petition to the government, demanding more research into the little-known condition, which affects 1:100,000 people.
“Physical exercise has kept my faith in getting better. Going to the gym changed my life. I have reversed my diabetes, and it helped me get out of my wheelchair. I was determined not to end up in it full time. Now my health is stable, and my visits to the hospital have decreased.”
Anita attended the ‘health hub’ and gym at Avondale when her wound was about six months away from being completely healed.
“I met Rocky, showed him pictures of it, and said ‘you’ve got to be gentle’. I was terrified of physical exercise, as I was scared I would bang the wound and open it up again. But Rocky was the ultimate professional, giving me one-to-one support to work round my condition. I did five repetitions on the weights machine in the first session and now I can do up to 200! I have a lot to thank him for. He has been an absolute star.”
Anita has been a regular at the gym for two years, exercising for an hour at a time, with rare breaks when her condition has made her too unwell.
“Physical exercise has kept my faith in my ability to recover from it, and enabled me to keep mobile. I know a lot of people manage life very well from a wheelchair, but emotionally I couldn’t take it.”
Anita says exercise at the gym has kept her going through some particularly challenging times.
“This is a vicious disease. I am often in tears with the pain, but exercising keeps me mentally positive, as well as flexible. I push myself to go to the gym, and I’m always glad when I go. The staff are really lovely and supportive.”
For Paul, Anita’s progress has been a pleasure to watch.
“It wasn’t smooth sailing”, he explains “there have been plenty of ups and downs, but Anita has been determined throughout all of her hospital admissions and treatments. She can now walk with the help of her crutches and although there are still ongoing hospital admissions and medications, she has greatly improved her confidence, strength and quality of life. Anita really is a truly inspiration to me and to everyone she meets.”
Now Life Leisure is backing Anita in her bid to petition the government for more research into PG.
“When I was diagnosed, I had no idea what it is. There aren’t the resources that have been given to other auto-immune conditions. After I petition the government, I would like to go into life coaching and help other people living with long-term conditions. So much of recovery is down to a positive mental attitude and finding the strength to make the changes to your life that will help. Everybody has the ability to find that mental strength, with the right support.”