Inspiring story the highlight of SARH conference
The story of a Stafford woman who overcame deafness and progressive sight loss to enjoy a successful career in nursing provided one of the highlights of a special conference organised by Stafford and Rural Homes (SARH).
When she was in her late teens, Alison Banham was told she would never marry, have a career or amount to anything after doctors told her she was loosing her peripheral vision. Deaf from birth due to a genetic condition, she faced an uncertain future but decided to continue with the nursing course she had enrolled on.
Now, two decades later, Alison is married with two teenage daughters and is still enjoying her career at Stafford Hospital – with a little help from Elmo, her guide dog.
“I was just six months into my training when I hit my head and was left with what can best be described as ‘black floaters’ in front of my eyes,” Alison explained.
“Doctors at Manchester Eye Hospital diagnosed pigmentation in the eye and, at the time, they said I would never be able to do anything worthwhile.
“I was determined to carry on though, and although my sight has got progressively worse, I decided to make the most of every opportunity.”
The condition has seen the gradual disintegration of Alison’s peripheral vision and, although she can still see things right in front of her quite clearly, she struggles to see anything in poor light and was registered blind five years ago.
Since then Elmo has helped her to carry on doing almost everything she did before and, as well as being a service user, Alison has also become a volunteer for the charity Guide Dogs.
When she’s not on the wards or looking after her family, she spends her time visiting community groups, organising fundraising events and generally raising the profile of the charity and the challenges faced by people with sight loss.
“Wherever we go, Elmo is always the centre of attention,” said Alison, who also shared some tips on what to do – or not to do – to help people with a guide dog.
“While the dogs are very friendly, don’t try to stroke them without asking the owner first as they are very easily distracted. If I’ve asked Elmo to help me to the chemist, we may end up at the supermarket!”
“Motorists can also help by not parking on pavements, as dogs like Elmo will try and avoid the obstacle by going into the road.”
Alison’s story provided suitable inspiration for more than 50 guests who attended the housing association’s Full of Life conference at the SARH offices in Parker Court.
Organised as part of celebrations to mark International Older Person’s Day, the popular annual event also featured exhibition stands showcasing products and services intended to help people maintain their independence as they get older.
Amongst the guest speakers, Simon Whitehouse of Together We’re Better, the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Sustainability and Transformation Partnership provided an insight into changes in the NHS and local health and social care.
Also taking to the stage on the day was the winner of the SARH poetry competition, which this year was based on the theme of ‘Change’.
SARH customer Clive Ryder from Stafford impressed judges with his poem, A Change for Peace, dedicated to the children of war-torn Yemen.
Karen Armitage, SARH Chief Executive, commented: “The Full of Life conference really is one of the highlights of our year, providing us with the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our older customers whilst providing practical advice on making the most of life.
“This year proved as inspiring as ever and Elmo and Alison were truly the stars of the show!”
Alison Banham and her guide dog Elmo.