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In Full . . .

One year on: Looking to the future for Andy

Posted on November 01 2005 at 8:47:41

Andy and pals

How do you cope when the unthinkable happens? Jenni Ameghino talks to an Alvechurch family struggling with the consequences of a catastrophic road accident about friends, funds and the future.

If you should ever need directions to Tadworth, just ask Andrea Perrygrove. The Alvechurch mother of two knows every twist and turn of the three-hour journey from North Worcestershire to the Surrey village. She could probably drive it blindfold.

She knows the route so well because Tadworth is where she travels every Friday to collect her 14-year-old son Andrew from one of the UK’s top rehabilitation centres for young people with acquired severe brain injury.

Having spent the day there, she swaps the family car for one of the centre’s specially-adapted minibuses to make the exhausting trip back up the M25 and the M40, bringing him home for the weekend. On the return leg she is accompanied by her husband Glenn, who spends his weekdays helping to care for their son at Tadworth Court.

On December 14 it will be 12 months to the day since Andrew (Andy to his mates), then a year-nine pupil at South Bromsgrove High School, was in collision with a van after stepping off the school bus in Birmingham Road, Alvechurch. He was little more than 100 yards from his front door.

It is a scenario which occupies a fearfully dark place in any parent’s heart and which is all too common on today’s roads. A split-second event at the end of a routine journey changes a family’s lives; a consequence of the terrible incompatibility of human versus motor traffic.

The fallout from the accident – witnessed by many of Andy’s school and childhood friends – has been far-reaching. In the weeks afterwards, much of the community was tangibly shocked.

“We didn’t send a single Christmas card; it was a flat and joyless time,” said one neighbour, summing up a collective feeling.

The Perrygroves are an entirely normal, average family. They have no particular medical skills other than the newly-developed expertise of caring for someone you love who is suddenly in a radically altered state, for no-one-knows how long to come.

Having coped with the inevitable dislocation of their family in the last year, they remain closely bound and are refreshingly frank about their son’s prospects yet fuelled by unquenchable hope. There is no avenue of treatment nor scientific development they are not determined to pursue if it can help.

They point out a horrible irony: that at a time when you want to focus on what really matters and when work and bills fade into the background, you are swamped with must-do paperwork; from NHS literature and medical reports to official forms and bureaucratic red-tape.

“I think possibly the hardest moment was when Andrew was moved to Tadworth in May,” Andrea reflects. “That was when things really hit home; when we were surrounded by children with similar injuries rather than being in a large hospital caring for a variety of patients.”

Acquired brain injury is an area of medicine in which there are no common rules nor prognoses, no guaranteed treatments and especially no quick-fix answers.

Today, Andy’s condition has stabilised to the extent that he can spend weekends at home, albeit with some heavy-duty medical gear, including a specially-adapted wheelchair and bed plus a hoist.

Caring for a son diagnosed as having high-level dependency is physically and emotionally gruelling.

It has been the steepest of learning curves for Andrea and Glenn, from their initial vigil at his bedside – first at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch and then at the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham – through the trauma of operations, infections and seemingly endless tests, to more recent days of physiotherapy and sensory stimulation.

A small band of close friends and neighbours have given unwavering comfort and practical support, to them and to Andy’s sister Lisa, aged 17, who overcame huge obstacles to achieve good GCSE passes in the summer.

Says Andrea: “We would so much like to thank everyone who has already made donations or sent us cards and good wishes.”

They also pay tribute to Andy’s friends. So many tried to visit him in hospital that a rota had to be set up.

More recently, a small core has been regularly spending time with him at home, watching TV or playing games. “They’re just fantastic,” says Glenn.

But care and concern stretch even further. Talk in the wider community – in the queue at the Co-Op or at the village bus stop – has been consistently: “What can we do? How can we help?”

Now there is a way. Andy’s Fund has been established to raise much-needed resources, for today and for the future.

Immediate priorities are to buy a specially-adapted vehicle for use when Andy begins to be cared for at home, probably next February.

There are other needs, such as help with his daily care, physiotherapy and adapting the family house, a mind-bogglingly complex and costly prospect.

The ball has already started rolling. At the end of last month, Tim Brown undertook a sponsored cycle ride from Alvechurch to Weston super Mare, the first event to benefit Andy’s Fund.

More are planned. And as Andrew and his family prepare for a new stage on their long and challenging journey, all the signs indicate that they have more allies than they could possibly know.

• If you would like to help Andy’s Fund, please contact co-ordinators: Sharon Williams on 01527 63404, Kathy Kirk on 0121 445 1495 or Dawn Dearden on 0121 445 4503. Cheques from sponsored events, made out to Andy’s Fund, can also be sent via The Village magazine, 16 The Square, Alvechurch B48 7LA

• A meeting will be held upstairs in the Red Lion public house, Alvechurch, on November 23 at 7.30m for anyone who would like to offer to raise money for Andy’s Fund or to share group fundraising ideas. Also, the fundraising team is very keen to hear from anyone who has experience of appeals of this nature and can offer their expertise, particularly from a charitable trust or tax perspective.

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