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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.”

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Smoking linked to stroke in new study 

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Guido Falcone, assistant professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine, was the senior author of the study

Adults who smoke, or are genetically predisposed to smoking behaviours, are more likely to experience a subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), new research has revealed.

The study found that while smokers are at a higher risk of SAH, that rises to over 60 per cent among those with genetic variants that predispose them to smoking.

The research, published in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, establishes a link between smoking and the risk of SAH for the first time.

While it has been proven in other types of stroke, this is pioneering research in its link with SAH – a type of stroke that occurs when a blood vessel on the surface of the brain ruptures and bleeds into the space between the brain and the skull.

Results of the study show:

  • the relationship between smoking and SAH risk appeared to be linear, with those who smoked half a pack to 20 packs of cigarettes a year having a 27% increased risk;
  • heavier smokers, those who smoked more than 40 packs of cigarettes a year, were nearly three times more at risk for SAH than those who did not smoke; and,
  • people who were genetically predisposed to smoking behaviours were at a 63% greater risk for SAH.

Researchers also stated that while their findings suggest a more pronounced and harmful effect of smoking in women and adults with high blood pressure, they believe larger studies are needed to confirm these results.

“Previous studies have shown that smoking is associated with higher risks of SAH, yet it has been unclear if smoking or another confounding condition such as high blood pressure was a cause of the stroke,” says senior study author Guido Falcone, assistant professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine.

“A definitive, causal relationship between smoking and the risk of SAH has not been previously established as it has been with other types of stroke.”

During the study, researchers analysed the genetic data of 408,609 people from the UK Biobank, aged 40 to 69 at time of recruitment (2006-2010).

Incidence of SAH was collected throughout the study, with a total of 904 SAHs occurring by the end of the study.

Researchers developed a genetic risk scoring system that included genetic markers associated with risk of smoking and tracked smoking behaviour data, which was collected at the time each participant was recruited.

“Our results provide justification for future studies to focus on evaluating whether information on genetic variants leading to smoking can be used to better identify people at high risk of having one of these types of brain haemorrhages,” said lead study author Julian N. Acosta, neurologist, postdoctoral research fellow at the Yale School of Medicine.

“These targeted populations might benefit from aggressive diagnostic interventions that could lead to early identification of the aneurysms that cause this serious type of bleeding stroke.”

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New campaign to reduce stroke risk launched on Stroke Prevention Day 

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Almost nine out of ten strokes are associated with modifiable risk factors

A 12-week campaign is being launched today – Stroke Prevention Day – to help raise awareness of how the risk of stroke can be reduced. 

The campaign encourages people to make one small positive change to their lifestyle to reduce the possibility of stroke, which is the fourth highest cause of death in the UK. 

According to the Stroke Association UK, 89 per cent – almost 9 in 10 – strokes are associated with modifiable risk factors in the Western countries, including lifestyle elements that can be changed to reduce risk, such as weight, diet and blood pressure. 

New research commissioned by the charity, which is leading the campaign, has also revealed: 

  •  Only 1 in 20 (6%) UK adults think they’re at high risk of a stroke, despite the fact that the global lifetime risk of stroke from the age of 25 years onward was approximately 25% among both men and women
  • Almost half (47%) of the country don’t know that high blood pressure is a top risk factor for stroke 
  • 3 in 4 people (73%) said that they have had no information about stroke reduction recently, which rises to over 4 in 5 (85%) of over-65s, who are most at risk of having a stroke.

Blood pressure is the biggest cause of stroke, with 55 per cent of stroke patients having hypertension when they experience their stroke. Further, around 1 in 4 adults from 55 years of age will develop AFib. 

“While these numbers are concerning, they also demonstrate that with increased awareness, we can all take simple steps to reduce our risk,” says Charlie Fox, sales director of OMRON Healthcare, who are supporting the Stroke Association campaign alongside Patients Know Best. 

“As an incredibly important risk factor for stroke, having a healthy heart should be a top priority and remain front of mind.”

AFib can be asymptomatic and may not be present during a medical appointment as episodes can be occasional, which means it is often left undiagnosed. 

But given its seriousness, those who may be at risk should routinely record electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements, according to current medical guidelines. 

Through doing so at home will enable patients to become more in control of their health, with OMRON being one of the companies developing the technology to support them in doing so. 

“The public wants and needs to be more in control of its health, which is why we create products and services that are suitable for use at home as part of our Going for Zero strokes pledge,” adds Fox. 

“OMRON Complete, for example, is an upcoming, clinically validated home blood pressure monitor with a built-in ECG which can help detect AFib which we’re excited to launch in the coming months. 

“It is our hope that through this awareness programme and by equipping the public with the tools it needs, we can make having an empowered and informed lifestyle the new normal.”

People with a Patients Know Best (PKB) Personal Health Record can also log readings to get a more complete picture of their health journey. This allows them to look back with ease and share readings with clinical teams and caregivers in a safe, secure and meaningful way.

Fox concludes: “Your blood pressure provides important health insights. Monitoring it regularly alongside your ECG readings empowers you with knowledge, helps you act sooner, and can even save your life”.

More information about the campaign and how you can make your one small change can be found here: www.stroke.org.uk/PreventionDay

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What are the IDDSI Levels and why do they matter?

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Wiltshire Farm Foods takes you through the importance of the IDDSI Levels

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Dysphagia, more commonly known as swallowing difficulties, can be prevalent amongst those in neuro rehabilitation. For those in recovery, understanding how their swallowing has been affected, what solutions are available and which nutritional, delicious and above all, safe, meals they should be eating, is of paramount importance.   

When someone starts to experience dysphagia, they are most commonly seen by a speech and language therapist (SLT) and a dietitian. Together, they will create a plan for the management of dysphagia. A speech and language therapist will explain in detail the importance of texture modified food and drinks and will work with you to carefully understand the right texture modification for you. 

What is IDDSI?

This is where IDDSI can help you understand your recommended texture modified diet in more detail.  IDDSI stands for International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative. This is a committee that have developed a framework of 8 levels which provide common terminology to describe food textures and the thickness of liquids for those living with dysphagia.

The purpose of IDDSI is to create standardised terminology and descriptors for texture modified foods and liquids that can be applied and understood globally – across all cultures and age spans.

Before the introduction of IDDSI, there were national descriptors in the UK which were formed by opinion rather than international standards. Having different terminology, categories and definitions in different countries caused some instances of food being of incorrect consistency. The IDDSI framework was fully adopted by food manufacturers and healthcare settings in the UK in March 2019.

The framework consists of levels for both drinks (liquids) and foods, some of which overlap as you can see in the image above. Here is a breakdown of each category in the IDDSI FOODS framework. 

Level 3 – Liquidised/Moderately Thick

  • Can be drunk from a cup
  • Does not retain its shape
  • Can be eaten with a spoon, not a fork
  • Smooth texture with no ‘bits’

Level 4 – Pureed/Extremely Thick

  • Usually eaten with a spoon (a fork is possible)
  • Does not flow easily
  • Does not require chewing
  • Retains its shape
  • No lumps
  • Not a sticky consistency

Level 5 – Minced

  • Can be eaten with either a fork or a spoon
  • Can be scooped and shaped
  • Small lumps are visible, but are easy to squash with tongue
  • Biting is not required
  • Minimal chewing required

Level 6 – Soft & Bite-Sized

  • Can be eaten with fork or spoon
  • Can be mashed/broken down with pressure
  • Chewing is required before swallowing

How can I check my meals are made to IDDSI standards?

You can check to see whether your food is compliant with the IDDSI Framework by watching these IDDSI Food Test videos.

To discover a Softer Foods range which is IDDSI compliant and created with your patients’ needs in mind, register here for the opportunity to try some complimentary meals from Wiltshire Farm Foods.

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