Anita Nickson from Stockport has the long-term health condition, Pyoderma Gangrenosum, an auto immune skin disease caused by an over-active immune system. The disease is extremely rare and affects just one in 100,000 people in the UK. Over an 8-year period Anita had 29 hospital admissions, 4 blood transfusions, 11 cycles of biological chemotherapy over 15 months, steroid induced type 2 diabetes, 8 blood infections and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s such a horrifically painful thing. Before the biological chemo I went through about 22 different types of drugs, it was horrific,” she said.
Her various conditions meant that she required a wheelchair constantly. In 2015, Anita was referred by her GP onto the Physical Activity Referral in Stockport (PARiS) scheme in the hope that moving more and some strengthening exercises may help her. The one-to-one support was specific to her needs and as a result, Anita began to use the gym.
“Getting moving has been a lifesaver for me really. There’s a fine line between resting and staying too still and often if I'm not active enough I tend to stiffen up. I feel that light exercise gives me more loose mobility. I also find it has benefits for my emotional state; It’s essential to have a positive mindset I believe the mind is that powerful it can affect your physical wellbeing too. Even though sometimes I may not feel like exercising we all know that when you do exercise it releases endorphins.”
“I never gave up on being able to walk wheelchair-free. Through the PARiS scheme I’ve actually been able to work myself up from a wheelchair, to a frame, to crutches.”
Four years on Anita is still moving and seeing the benefits. She struggles to commit the time to going to the gym as much, so she fits in her exercise at home in the morning. “Exercising in the morning gives me a good start to the day and gets me going." Some of her exercises would usually involve lying on the floor but she uses the bed instead as she struggles to get on the floor.
Anita changed her life through physical activity, which saw her win the 2017 Changing Lifestyle Award at both the Stockport Sports Awards, and the Greater Manchester Sports Awards. When Anita received her award at The Greater Manchester Sports Awards, presented by female boxer Stacey Copeland, she walked on stage with only her crutches in front of 550 people which was an incredible moment to see.
Not only did Anita change her life, she is passionate about helping others too. She is determined to ensure others don't have to go through what she did, so has started a petition to attempt to get more research into Pyoderma Gangrenosum funded. Find out more about the petition, and sign it here.
Sport England’s ‘We Are Undefeatable’ campaign aims to support people like Anita to enable them to move more. According to the 2011 census, one in five people in Greater Manchester – over 500,000 people – are living with at least one long-term illness. This includes cancer, dementia, diabetes, asthma, Parkinson’s, arthritis, stroke and depression. You can find out more including how to get involved or how to support others to get moving online here.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic numerous organisations have been conducting research and exploring the implications of the pandemic and lockdown on a number of factors, including physical activity.
Better Health will help capture the imagination of the nation, using this unique moment in time to help kick start our health – to eat better and get moving.
An open letter urging sport and leisure decision makers to put disabled people’s inclusion at the heart of plans and preparations as restrictions are lifted further.