Wednesday, 16 October 2019

I’ve monoskied at age 78

I’ve monoskied at age 78

A MAN celebrated his recovery from a potentially fatal disease by mono-skiing — at the age of 78.

Peter Woolsey, from Binfield Heath, was paralysed in his legs and body in December last year and was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or GBS.

This is a rare but serious disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells, leading to tiredness, weakness, numbness and, eventually, permanent paralysis.

Mr Woolsey had attended a conference in London when he began to feel tired but assumed that he had been overdoing it.

Over the next two days he felt worse and realised it was serious when his wife Finella noticed he had difficulty walking. He then collapsed while Christmas shopping in Reading.

He went to Sonning Common Health Centre where he saw Dr Nick Smith, who diagnosed GBS even though he had not seen a case before.

“Dr Smith saved my life,” said Mr Woolsey. “He was absolutely brilliant. He phoned up accident and emergency at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and insisted that I had a CT scan and, if that was clear, to have a lumbar puncture.” The puncture test confirmed the diagnosis and Mr Woolsey was seen by a neurologist who prescribed a powerful anti-viral treatment.

He also warned Mr Woolsey that his recovery would take months and there was an eight per cent chance he might die.

The treatment, which began on Christmas Eve and lasted several days, was unbearably painful.

Mr Woolsey recalled: “I said to the nurses one night that they had to stop the treatment to let me sleep — that was how much pain I was in — but I was wrong to say that. After a few days I had this realisation that I had to put up or shut up and I asked myself what I really wanted to do — I wanted to get my legs working again.

“Every two hours I would get up and try to move with a Zimmer frame and I had an urge to take up monoskiing again, which I first did when I was 19 and had done all my life until about 10 years ago.”

Before the New Year, his body had got used to the treatment and he found it easier to cope with it.

He was discharged on January 3 after 10 days in hospital during which time he had lost 30 per cent of his muscle mass.

Mr Woolsey left the hospital using a walking stick but by April he was back driving again and started swimming at Henley leisure centre to rebuild his strength.

In August, he was on holiday in the south of France when he managed to water ski for the first time in years.

On his return home, he decided to try to get back on a monoski and booked an afternoon slot at the Isis Waterski and Wakeboard Club at Caversham Lakes where he used to be a member when he was younger.

Mr Woolsey said: “Frankly, I did not expect to get up on one ski — Finella had me gardening and clearing rubbish from early morning to midday.

“Nevertheless, on the third attempt I managed to not only get up but skied for about 10 minutes before catching a wave, when crossing the wake, in choppy conditions. I just couldn’t help but think ‘yahoo’ when I did it.

“My boat driver Ken was the oldest water skiing member of the club at 63 so while he was delighted for my personal success, I took away his title. I gave him a bottle of Talisker as a thank-you and to drown his sorrows.”

Mr Woolsey says he wants to continue “staying alive and making a difference” so has set himself new challenges, including helping his daughter Widge’s charity Ufulu, which provides sanitary products to women in Africa.

He said: “I set myself the challenge of monoskiing and I have done that — that was the objective. The next step up would be a slalom course, which I’d like to do by this time next year.

“Then, if I have the finances, the health and support, I will try monoskiing the Channel, which I have wanted to do since I was 19, and raise money for my daughter’s charity as a way of saying how proud I am of her.”

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