A conversation with Susie Turnbull, WheelAir Clinical Educator and OT

Susie Turnbull qualified as an occupational therapist in 2000, working in the NHS and also as an independent practitioner. Her area of expertise lies in spinal cord injury rehabilitation, where she has enjoyed 14 years at the National Spinal Injuries Centre. Having also achieved a Masters in Design Research for Disability (2006), Susie is excited to be a part of the WheelAir team, where she can combine her passions for a good idea and improving lives for people with disabilities. As an occupational therapist, I have a passion for enabling people to live fulfilled lives and empowering them to realise their potential. OTs have a solution-focussed and problem-solving approach and aim to reduce barriers to participation and function in an individual’s daily life.
We teach new skills and help build knowledge, as well as provide more practical solutions to a problem that someone may be facing.
Throughout my career, I have come across many problems and have managed to work towards or identify a solution. Though more recently, in both my personal and my professional life, I noticed an understated problem that did not appear to have a very robust solution. When living and working with spinal cord injury, it became quite clear that the consequences of impaired temperature regulation were quite profound and impacted daily life activity decisions and health. I was beginning to learn of the impact that temperature control had on individuals and how much we, as able-bodied persons, take it for granted.

The solutions that we were using for situations of overheating were fans by the bedside, retreating to a cool space, or using water sprays and ice packs. While they had some effect, they were impractical and lifestyle-limiting. Additionally, the use of water sprays is dangerous to the skin as it causes dampness and subsequent risk to skin injury.
I was working with a client who struggled with overheating and sweating as his body was not able to compensate for the heat gain. He would not be able to sit out and he had several changes of clothes a day. He also had a lot of pain. This was causing him to lose independence and reduce his participation in his daily activities. He also became depressed and anxious about the pain and sweating.
I was really keen to find a solution to his issues and even the best wicking fabric on his wheelchair and techniques to lean forward weren’t wholly practical. Some weeks later, I met Corien from Wheelair! And what a relief. I arranged an assessment and the result? A very happy man. The effects of the airflow were immediate. He was delighted and so was I.
This experience reiterated the impact that impaired temperature regulation has on wellbeing and health. He no longer needed to change his shirt as he was no longer sweating, his skin was drier and less red and irritated, he had less pain and felt much brighter and motivated to go about his day. He did not have to...