Davie: “They’re genuinely concerned about you, I can’t tell you how much that means”

Davie Blair worked as a firefighter for 34 years and supported the Charity throughout, so when he suffered a stroke, he turned to us for support with not only his physical health, but also his mental wellbeing.

Just eight years ago, Davie Blair was celebrating 34 years in the fire service – nearly four decades in which he’d supported the Charity through regular donations, but had always assumed he’d never need its support.

Fast forward eight years and Davie says it’s been a lifeline for both himself and his wife, Hazel, on multiple occasions, after he suffered a stroke at the end of 2018.

Davie has visited Jubilee House, our centre in Cumbria, around 5-6 times now for support with his physical health. And he says each time, it’s gone far beyond that, as it’s also proved more beneficial than he could have imagined for his mental wellbeing.

Having worked as a firefighter with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from 1979 until he retired in 2013, Davie then moved to Edinburgh Airport to continue working as Compliance Manager within Terminal Operations, supervising a team of Terminal Safety Officers. It was there that he suddenly fell ill.

“I suffered a stroke at the end of 2018,” says Davie. “For me, it was what I call slow onset. I remember I was having a coffee with one of the guys and didn’t feel right, went back to the office, still didn’t feel right, then – I used to manage a rugby team – I went to training that night.

“When I got back I said to my wife, ‘I’m not feeling great I’m going to go to bed’. I woke up in the morning and I couldn’t speak.

“My wife immediately panicked and rung an ambulance, they arrived quickly, checked me over and then it was blue lights into the hospital. I was admitted into the stroke ward and the next morning I felt I was actually in a worse condition than when I got in.”

Davie stayed in rehab for around two months, as while his speech had begun to slowly improve straight away, he’d completely lost all movement in his right side.

“Being right-handed, that came as a bit of a blow,” he adds. “To begin with, I was more or less stuck in bed and even had to ring to go to the toilet. One of the biggest recovery goals for me was becoming toilet independent.”

“I remember the nurse in charge of the stroke ward was an ex-firefighter from the West Midlands. One of the first things he said to me was, ‘do you know about the Charity and Jubilee House in Penrith?’ I’d known a lot of people that had gone and sung its praises, but I thought it was for injuries – plus, I thought I wasn’t eligible because I was retired.”

Hazel ended up getting in touch to ask what support could be offered while he was still in hospital – and they were surprised to find out we were there for them both, for life.

“They explained I’d need to be discharged before I could attend a centre,” says Davie. “I continued with physio in hospital in the meantime.

“Psychologically, I had this idea – and I think everyone does after a stroke – that there’s this magic wand which will make you better. I was so keen to get back to work. But, of course, that couldn’t happen straight away.”

Davie was offered a residential stay at Jubilee House just before Christmas 2018. At that time, he was in a wheelchair, but he says the care he received from our Nursing team put him at ease straight away.

“There were actually a couple of people there at the time from my own brigade too, so I knew a couple of people,” he adds. “Your expectations when you arrive are, ‘they’re going to fix me in a week’. But they manage your expectations which is brilliant.”

Davie was given a specialised exercise plan to suit his needs, while being supported by the Nursing team throughout.

He managed a phased return to work at the airport in early January 2019, where “reasonable adjustments” were made to allow him to assume his previous role along with time off to continue visiting Jubilee House.

“I’ve been able to come every few months since, until Covid – and each week I’ve come I’ve improved. To start with, it was more mental health than physical, but now I’m slowly walking!

“Each time they ask you at the start of the week what’s you’d like to achieve. I’ve said, one of my goals is to walk from my house to the bus stop – it’s quite a steep hill. It’s important I can get there though, because then I can get to the pub!

“It’s just been amazing every time. Not just the physical side, it’s also the mental wellbeing too. My confidence has shot up and everyone is so supportive, they can’t do enough for you.

“My wife has also attended with me the last couple of times – she’s having physio following major spinal surgery. She knew how good it had been for me and, sure enough, she told me on the first visit that she slept better at Jubilee than she had in weeks, it’s the chance to relax.”

When our centres had to temporarily close during the national lockdowns over the last two years, Davie continued to receive virtual support from the Nursing team – which he says he found particularly touching.

“We did some phone calls and emails through lockdown which were really helpful,” says Davie. “For me – often your body finds the quickest way or easiest way of doing a rehab exercise, so you need a professional watching you to make sure you’re doing it right.

“They’re genuinely concerned about you, I can’t tell you how much that meant. The mental health support, too, is incredible.”

“My whole time in the service I paid into the Charity… I never needed the facilities at that point, but I have since.”

Davie Blair

Davie has also been supported by our Welfare team, who were able to help with eligibility for benefits. He sought advice and was pointed towards the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – something he hadn’t realised he was eligible for.

He now hopes his story will inspire others to support the Charity, having seen how much it can help.

“My whole time in the service I paid into the Charity, through my pay. I never needed the facilities at that point but I have since… I’d encourage anyone to do that, it’s so valuable, says Davie.

If you’re struggling with your physical or mental health, or you need support with your social wellbeing, we may be able to help you. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or register for MyFFC and visit the ‘Access Support’ tab.

You can also join our ‘Share Your Story Group in MyFFC to chat to others who have received the Charity’s support, or enquire about sharing your own story.