Staff Newspaper of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
IC Reporter
  Issue 89, 11 February 2000
Educational development gets set for a revamp «
Boing-Boing springs to life «
Two Colleges unite to make medical history «
Athnet launches «
New chief executive of IRSL at Hammersmith Hospital «
College telephone number changes planned «
Now we are five «
Helen Smith returns to Imperial «
Creating Sparks is set to light up South Kensington «
Sinfonic triumphs take centre stage in 2000 «
Regular Features
In Brief «
Media Mentions «
Noticeboard «
The view from the tower «

Helen Smith returns to Imperial

Helen Smith returns to Imperial College in May to re-start her PhD. Today, Friday, she meets Professor Stephen Bloom at Hammersmith hospital to talk about her future in the endocrine unit. A flat will be specially adapted nearby where she'll study.

Helen Smith
"I know the subject will be something to do with obesity. I'll be designing things, doing my own presentations - everything apart from practicals. I'm sure I could spread agar on plates but it's not part of the course!

"I'm looking forward to studying at Imperial but I'm apprehensive - I'm used to living a sheltered existence at home with my parents. I specialised in endocrinology at Bath University and now I have an endocrine problem of my own."

Rather than focusing inwardly on her 20 operations, the 25 year old who lost both her hands and legs due to meningococcal septicaemia, has campaigned for artificial limbs that didn't resemble orange, over-sized throwbacks from an eastern Europe of the 1940s.

Her campaign has been waged largely in the Mirror where donations and money from a Colchester businessman helped pay for artificial legs and forearms, together costing about 27,000.

"I don't know what sort of person I'd be without them. They make that much of a difference; they stop people staring. Without the donations I had, I'd never have been able to return to Imperial.

"I hit the press because the limbs people were given were absolutely disgusting. My original NHS ones gave me blisters after an hour. I had two pieces of foam for legs and a bright orange hand the size of my dad's with a big metallic zip.

"If they gave people decent limbs, no one would need counselling as they wouldn't be so depressed and the initial impact of the loss would be lessened. It's the difference between having shoes the wrong size and shoes that fit."

Recent discussions with her primary health care group means the NHS will be able to part-fund provision of Helen's limbs in the future.

"I really do think that since I've had the disease, there's been much more awareness. Both the Meningitis Research Foundation and National Meningitis Trust are aiming at better student awareness and the vaccine for Meningitis C is a big jump.

"It's a disease in which you trust your instincts not your doctor as so many things can be a sort of flu. I was misdiagnosed twice with food poisoning and flu and spent six months in Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge.

"Meningitis has closed a lot of opportunities but has also opened a lot. I made a series of programmes on disability issues for Anglia News. Eventually, I'd like to work for a drugs firm in marketing, advertising or publicity. I've got media experience now and a lot of people know my name."

Helen completed an English Literature A level in nine months last year and has started a painting course at Chesterton Community College near her home - 'just me and some little old pensioners.'

She's currently in training with Colchester Phoenix Swimming Club with the aim of competing in October's Paralympics in Sydney. At the recent 'Double Dutch' event in Holland, a mixture of able bodied and disabled swimmers from across Europe, she won two gold medals, three silvers and a bronze.

"I train three times a week and can swim freestyle faster than I can walk - you learn to use your body in different ways.

"I have to be properly classified and meet qualifying times. If there are any keen swimmers at Imperial, I'd like them to help me train. I'm heading for the Olympics but my life won't be devastated if I don't make it."

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© Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, 2000
11 February 2000