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History Bones: Liz’s Story

Christmas Day 1970, Liz meets Santa in Hospital
  • Posted on Jul 19, 2018

I was born in 1963 in Redhill, Surrey.  My early fractures were treated at the old East Surrey Hospital and I remember even at around 5 years old being suspended on a vertical traction for broken legs. I continued to fracture during childhood and struggled to attend school.  Surrey Education authority could only offer my parents a school for special educational needs which accommodated children with severe learning difficulties. I was fortunate that my grandfather taught me Maths, English, Geography and History at home.  His method was ingenious as he purchased a globe to help me with Geography, and for Mathematics he made me move round the floor in plaster whilst I counted boxes of matches to learn numbers and the times tables!  I was one of 4 of the first pupils to attend a newly opened Comprehensive school in West Sussex with a special unit for disabled children in 1975.  I was lucky to be able to do O and A levels before going to college to study for a degree in English and Comparative Religions. I recall at the college interview they had to be persuaded to take a student using a wheelchair as I might be a fire risk.  All wheelchair users are told they are a fire risk at some time or another, but to this date I have never felt the urge to burst into flames!

Because of OI, Liz was in hospital on Christmas in December 1970

My sister is 9 years older than me and was always there for me as I was growing up. Unfortunately our parents had a difficult marriage and finally separated when I was about 6 years old. My Dad became the chairman of the Surrey branch of the Brittle Bone Society in the 1970’s, along with Kathleen Danagher. From this point I became very close with Nick Danagher, Kathleen’s son.  Nick and I were in Great Ormond Street Hospital at the same time, but he was 6 years younger than me. We all benefited from the TV programme ‘Magpie’ appeal in 1978.  This provided equipment for children in the Brittle Bone Society. I was kindly given a sewing machine, a typewriter and a wheelchair.  The wheelchair had elevating leg rests, which were state of the art at that time. My sister made me clothes on the sewing machine and we still have it working to this day.

Sadly Nick Danagher passed away in 2012.  He was an extraordinary revolutionary in the independent living movement for disabled people and this piece for the History Bones project is dedicated to him.

– Liz Trethewey (nee Burchett)

If you have any memories of how OI has affected you or your family over the past fifty years, we would love to hear from you. We are collecting items of historical significance for our upcoming History Bones exhibition, and anything you might be able to lend us would be gratefully received. Please email us at BBS@BrittleBone.org if you want to get involved!