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How an appeal to raise a few pounds became a much-loved charity – meet its inspiration, brain injury survivor Andrew Baker

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Andrew Baker - founder of Play2Give

What began as a schoolboy dream to raise a few pounds to thank the medics who had supported him throughout his childhood has become a much-loved fundraising organisation which has generated over £245,000 for good causes. Here, Andrew Baker discusses his pride at being able to help fellow young hospital patients and brain injury survivors through his Play2Give organisation.

Having lived with a brain injury since birth, spending much of his younger years in and out of hospitals for ongoing treatment and undergoing major brain surgery at the age of 12, Andrew Baker decided he wanted to give something back.

“The medical teams were amazing, they were so brilliant, and I decided I just wanted to say thank you. It will be 19 years ago in January when I was in year 10 at St Birinus School in Didcot and thought how nice it would be to raise some money for them as a way to give back,” he recalls.

“I set a target of £500 and the response from my school was brilliant, we first raised £1,000. That was the start of my fundraising journey.”

Since that time, Andrew has gone on to raise over £245,000 for an array of charities, through the creation of Play2Give, which takes its name from what was initially devised to be an one-off fundraising football tournament he organised that has spiralled into a dedicated non-profit organisation.

Among the many beneficiaries of Andrew’s fundraising, Oxford Children’s Hospital and brain injury charity Headway Oxfordshire are causes particularly close to his heart.

And as well as Play2Give, there is also its accompanying festive arm, Sleigh2Give, which donates gifts to children who are spending their Christmas in Oxford Children’s Hospital and other children and families less fortunate – to date, over £120,000 worth of presents have been given out since 2015.

Andrew’s efforts have attracted national praise, with awards including the British Citizen Award Medal of Honour (meaning he has BCAv after his name), last year being one of four finalists in the ITV Meridian region for Fundraiser of the Year as part of the Pride of Britain Awards, and having a Points of Light award bestowed upon him by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in January.

“It’s all quite unbelievable sometimes and it’s crazy how it has grown, but the best thing for me is that I am helping other people, using my motivation and experience of my own adversity to make change,” says Andrew, 32, from Didcot.

“Through this fundraising, we are helping to change, transform and save lives, which is what Play2Give is all about and to see the positive impact on people’s lives is what this is for and that along with my own experience continually drives me on.

“I am helping people like me. It hasn’t been easy for me living life daily with a brain injury and the everyday challenges it brings, but with support you can get through it. I use Headway in Oxford twice a week and spent lots of my childhood in hospital, it was like a second home for so much of my young years so I know how much this kind of help and the all important fundraising is needed.”

His initial fundraising as a 14-year-old boy coincided with the development of the Oxford Children’s Hospital, which did not exist when Andrew was undergoing his treatment. Since that time, he has raised tens of thousands of pounds to help bring the idea of the hospital to reality.

“I had to go between John Radcliffe Hospital and the former Radcliffe Infirmary because there was no children’s hospital then. It was really needed for children like me, so the fact my fundraising in part has helped to create Oxford Children’s Hospital is amazing, really,” he says.

“Plus it has amazing pull-out beds next to the child’s beds – something which my mum never got to experience during my stays.

“We raised £40,000 specifically to go towards a single patient room on the teenage ward in the hospital, which is named after Play2Give. Being able to fund a room is a long-term impact which will help so many teenagers being cared for in a special environment for years to come.

“That was a very proud moment in March 2017, cutting the ribbon to officially commemorate the unveiling of the room.

“Before COVID, we used to go in and meet the teenagers who was in the sponsored Play2Give Room and their family, which was brilliant. We would talk to them about Play2Give and our story, and having funded it and they realised we understood what they were going through. We look forward to when we can do that again going round the wards and into our room meeting the children and families.”

Alongside the creation of the hospital itself, Andrew has also raised significant sums to help build the new nearby Ronald McDonald House, which provides accommodation for families whose child is in hospital. The new 62-bed facility opened in May, replacing the former 17-bed unit which was the top floor of the children’s hospital.

“When I was in hospital, my mum had to sleep next to my bed, uncomfortable on a makeshift camp bed in an ageing children’s ward, so the Ronald McDonald House is another specialist facility I can really realise the value of,” he says.

“It costs £25 a night for a family to stay in the Ronald McDonald House accommodation, and we have raised around £10,000 now, so that is an enormous amount of nights that parents and siblings can be closer to their loved ones.”

Andrew is also a keen supporter of Headway Oxfordshire, as well as a regular service user. Through his fundraising, he has financed equipment, specifically six specialist neurophysiotherapy chairs, and helped to keep the centre and its services running.

“Going to the Headway activity and rehabilitation centre since 2012 and meeting people has helped me so much, it has brought out my confidence and increased my skills and cognitive functioning,” he says.

“When I first started going, I was quiet, shy and anxious Andy, but that’s not the case now. I spend two days each week at the centre with fellow brain injury survivors and while we’re all unique with our brain injuries, we share experiences and can understand what we are all going through with no fear and with reassurance.

“I actually use the physio chairs our fundraising efforts in 2017 helped to fund, so I am benefiting from this fantastic custom-built machinery  along with so many people.”

Although the pandemic has sadly prevented the team’s Christmas toy drops to the Oxford Children’s Hospital this year, the donations in gifts this Christmas will still continue although in a different way.

“We absolutely love going onto the wards, the aim of what we do through our Sleigh2Give arm is to bring a bit of cheer joy and raise some smiles,” says Andrew.

“But the donations are still continuing this year so we can help families out a bit at what is a difficult time when your child is in hospital and more so over Christmas and we also branch it out to enable other children and families less fortunate and the vulnerable to also receive a dose of Elf Andy generosity with the gift of presents at Christmas time.”

While Andrew admits fundraising this year has been tough, Play2Give will still raise in excess of at least £10,000 by the end of 2020, with Andrew being as committed as ever to continuing his work going forward, with further plans for growth of his organisation and more exciting events.

“People have really taken Play2Give to their hearts, we have a lot of love and admiration for what we do, the reaction from people locally is brilliant,” says Andrew.

“This year has been difficult but we have still seen so much generosity from people, it is always heartwarming and even more this year. I just want them to know that their donations are going towards helping those who will see so much benefit from it. Together we are transforming lives, and that is such a fantastic thing.”

MND

£1m dedicated to MND research through 7 in 7 Challenge

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A £1million fund has been created to lead new research into potential treatments for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) through the efforts of an iconic challenge by Kevin Sinfeld. 

Kevin, director of rugby at Leeds Rhinos, raised over £2million through his 7 in 7 Challenge, inspired by his former team-mate and close friend Rob Burrow. 

Rhinos legend Rob was diagnosed with MND in December 2019, and Kevin completed seven marathons in as many days to help boost badly-needed research into the condition. 

Now, with £500,000 of the money raised through the 7 in 7 Challenge ring fenced for research, that sum has been matched by medical research charity LifeArc. 

The move has created a £1million joint fund established by the MND Association and LifeArc, which will support research projects focused on developing new therapies or repurposing drugs already approved for use for other conditions.

“This is fantastic news and an amazing contribution from LifeArc,” says Kevin. 

“When we set out to complete the 7 in 7 Challenge we hoped to raise awareness and funds to support the MND community but it is so wonderful to see the inspiration it has given people and organisations, like LifeArc, so they too can support the need for more research.

“Our hope, like that of everyone affected by this brutal disease including Rob, is that this money will make a real difference and help find the breakthrough we all desperately want.”

Researchers are now able to apply for a share of the funding, with the criteria that they will be expected to conclude their project within three years and be target driving with set milestones and a credible delivery plan – including a clear route to reach MND patients.

Dr Brian Dickie, director of research development at the MND Association says: “We are so grateful to LifeArc for this generous contribution and are looking forward to working with them to identify projects which have a real chance of making a difference to our community in the coming years.”

Melanie Lee, LifeArc’s chief executive, emphasised that the focus of the new funding is on boosting research around potential treatment options based on the latest understanding of the disease.

“The ambition around stimulating the search for new treatments fits with LifeArc’s approach over the last 25 years to translate early science into health care treatments or diagnostics that can transform patients’ lives,” she says. 

“Our partnership with the MND Association is the latest in a series of strategic partnerships that maximise LifeArc’s expertise in translating strong discoveries from the lab into benefitting patients with conditions with few or no effective treatment options.”

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What causes a stroke?

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Ischemic and hemorrhagic are the two main types of stroke

Over 100,000 people in the UK suffer a stroke each year, with there currently being around 1.2 million survivors living in the country.

Many people note that despite how common strokes are they remain unaware of what the actual causes of a stroke are.

Depending on which of the two types develops, causes and outcomes can differ.

What both have in common is they restrict blood flow to the brain. This leads to a reduction in the brain’s oxygen levels, which can cause tissue damage.

Here, NR Times breaks down why a stroke may occur and what risk factors there are behind each different type.

What are the different types of stroke?

There are two main types of strokes: ischaemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic strokes make up nearly 90 percent of all cases and they materialise when an artery which provides blood and oxygen to the brain becomes blocked. 

A hemorrhagic stroke is much less common, but happens when an artery leading to the brain bursts and starts to leak blood around or in the brain.

Causes of an ischaemic stroke

The brain is only able to function properly when its arteries supply it with oxygen-rich blood, meaning any blockages can cause lasting damage.

With a lack of blood flow, the brain is unable to make enough energy to work. If this consists for more than a few minutes, brain cells will begin to die.

This is exactly what happens in an ischaemic stroke, but there are a range of reasons as to why these blockages develop.

One of the main causes is when the arteries around the head narrow, which makes it harder for the blood to pass through.

This can also lead to something called atherosclerosis, which is where substances in the blood (such as fat or cholesterol) stick to the sides of the arteries.

Blood can build up on these deposits, causing a further increase in pressure and a reduction to the brain’s oxygen supply.

There are a number of reasons for these blockages, with the most common ones being around a person’s lifestyle.

For example, smoking can increase the risk of a stroke by up to 50 percent.

This is because nicotine not only narrows the arteries, but it also makes the heart beat faster, causing an increase in blood pressure.

Excessive alcohol intake, obesity and high cholesterol levels are also all listed as major risk factors when it comes to ischaemic strokes.

Problems with the arteries around the heart can also lead to an ischaemic stroke.

Irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and other irregularities around this area can again limit the blood’s oxygen levels.

Causes of a hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic strokes are most common in people ages 45 to 70, but they affect a lot more younger people than an ischaemic stroke.

These are caused after the arteries around the brain burst and cause bleeding.

Depending on where the artery is can affect the outcome of the hemorrhagic stroke.

If the bleeding occurs within the brain, blood shooting out at high pressure can kill some cells.

Bleeding on the surface increases the pressure in the protective layer between the brain and the skull, potentially causing more cell loss.

This bleeding is normally caused by chronically high blood pressure. In many cases, the increased pressure can cause the arteries to expand and weaken, meaning a split in them is more likely to take place.

A rarer cause of hemorrhagic stroke is where the blood vessels around the brain are connected abnormally, causing further stress on the brain. These are congenital (present at birth) but the reason for their occurrence is currently unknown.

Again, the best way to reduce the risk of an hemorrhagic stroke is to make healthy lifestyle choices.

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NHS pilots video service for epilepsy diagnoses

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A new clinical video service which supports epilepsy diagnoses and management in the era of coronavirus and beyond has been launched in the UK.

vCreate Neuro allows registered patients and carers to share smartphone-recorded videos of potential seizures or unknown movements with their clinical team via a secure, NHS-trusted system.

The data and footage act as a visual aid to assist clinical teams with rapid precision diagnostics, creating a digitised clinical pathway that minimises the need for face-to-face clinic appointments and invasive tests.

The system is currently being piloted across Scotland and, following its initial success, across England including Great Ormond Street Hospital, Evelina London and Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

The system is available to families who are concerned that they, their child or loved one may be experiencing seizures or unexplained episodes including epilepsy.

Since May 2020, more than 2,000 families have shared over 5,000 videos with their clinical teams across the platform.

Dean MacLeod was referred to the service when her seven-year-old daughter, Olivia, began having unknown movements in May 2020.

Dean uploaded videos of Olivia during these episodes as Olivia’s seizures grew more frequent.

The videos were reviewed by Paediatric Neurology professionals at the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow, and, supported with telephone appointments, Olivia was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy and quickly started on treatment.

Speaking about her experience, Dean said: “I’ve found vCreate to be invaluable in Olivia’s journey since she started having seizures last summer.

“We live in a remote location on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, and we have a very limited paediatric service on the Island. The service has made it easy to access the specialist clinical knowledge needed by sending recordings of various seizure events to the Paediatric Neurology team at Glasgow.

“Since the diagnosis, I have kept in regular contact with the clinical team through the platform, sending videos and typically receiving advice from a Consultant within 24 hours which is fantastic. Between the vCreate service and telephone discussions, our family have not needed to have face-to-face consultations which has been hugely beneficial during the pandemic.”

Professor. Sameer Zuberi, consultant paediatric neurologist at the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow, said: “vCreate Neuro has transformed how we use carer-recorded video in our service. We are diagnosing epilepsy more rapidly, preventing misdiagnosis and saving unnecessary investigations. Families feel in more control and better connected to the service.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people experiencing seizures and seizure-like episodes, including children, have been unable to see a clinician.

Create Neuro aims to help by empowering patients to use asynchronous video technology for self-management, reducing the need for physical appointments. 

Founder Ben Moore said: “We’re passionate about family-forward care, and worked closely with clinical teams, patients and carers to develop the vCreate Neuro service.

“The system aims to improve patient care, reduce the number of clinic investigations – and resulting costs to the NHS – and digitise the patient pathway. We want families to be in control of their healthcare journey and have a direct link to their clinical team despite the pandemic restrictions.”

The vCreate platform has been independently assessed and approved by Information Governance teams in over 100 UK NHS Trusts.

 Within the platform, a clinical database is available as a learning resource for clinicians to study seizure types, events, and other symptoms.

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