Sally: “It’s like a giant family… they completely take care of you so you can focus on your wellbeing”

Sally Belzoni-Champollion is married to a North Yorkshire firefighter and has received nursing and physiotherapy support from us at Jubilee House due to a number of health conditions.

For Sally Belzoni-Champollion, who is living with three major health conditions, finding ways of enjoying her hobbies, looking after her mental wellbeing and keeping her independence are all incredibly important to her.

That’s why when she visited Jubilee House, our centre in Cumbria, for the first time in 2023, having support on hand 24/7 so she could focus on her physical and mental wellbeing proved hugely beneficial for her.

Sally’s husband David Ransom is a wholetime and on-call firefighter with North Yorkshire FRS. When he’s not working, he’s helping to care for her – so her three visits to Jubilee House since then have proved a much-needed break for him too.

Here, Sally, 56, shares her story and why she’s keen to spread the word about our support to other partners of fire service personnel, who may not know they’re eligible too:

“It was only last year that I realised that the Charity supports partners of firefighters,” says Sally.

“I got ME in my 20s, then after that I got fibromyalgia. Then last year I was also diagnosed with functional neurologic disorder (FND). They’re not sure if they’re all connected or how, but they impact me in different ways.

“The ME means I get extremely tired very quickly and sleep doesn’t help me recover like it would with other people, I wake up just as tired. That can last for weeks or even months. It’s like having flu, and you either have a bad day or a mild day, but it’s always there.

“There isn’t a day when I don’t have pain either, from the fibromyalgia, and then the FND is something totally different. That affects my balance, my speech, my short-term memory… some days I might say the same thing three times, for example, while my long-term memory is absolutely fine.

“It can also affect your eyesight, it disrupts your sleep patterns and I have a lot of numbness on my left side. I also have limited strength in my hands.”

Sally first got in touch with us after being told about some of the support we offer with long-term illnesses and health conditions. She has since visited Jubilee House three times, staying in our nursing wing and having support from our physiotherapists.

“There wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy. From the moment they meet you, you just don’t have to worry – they completely take care of you,” says Sally.

“From sorting everything you need in your room and unpacking through to your meals, they completely take care of you so you only have to focus on your wellbeing.

“All the physios are really switched on to FND and what I need. I have a problem with my swimming, for example – I can swim okay with my two arms and my right leg, but the minute I try to use my left leg it just completely paralyses me. They’ve helped to teach me ways of swimming so that both my legs will work. I’d never have been able to do that if it wasn’t for the physios.”

She adds: “Until I met everybody at The Fire Fighters Charity, I wasn’t dealing with my ME and FND very well at all. I’d try and push myself and do too much, then I’d be left feeling really frustrated when I couldn’t.

“The staff at Jubilee House gave me the time I needed to do my exercises, but then they’d be strict about making sure I had rest time too. That’s taught me to keep that pattern at home too.

“These are such fantastic facilities and everybody plays such a major role in your time there, from the cleaners to the kitchen staff and the therapists. Everyone.

“To be honest, it’s been like a giant family for me every time I’ve gone. It’s such a family atmosphere, we all have a laugh and tease each other.”

As well as the physical exercises, Sally also found some of our wellbeing sessions very helpful too.

“I’ve done a lot of the talks, which I’ve loved,” she adds. “The relaxation class is a lovely one – I’ve actually got the same music at home, so I can do them at home too.

“It can be really, really difficult… you can easily get frustrated and disheartened with this condition… maybe you try to say a word and can’t, or your limbs won’t move like you want them to, so learning to slow down and relax has been transformational for me.”

As well as the time there proving beneficial to Sally, it’s also been a welcome break for her husband David too.

“My husband does all the shopping and the cooking at home, so when I’m at Jubilee House, it’s a break for him,” she says.

Despite her health conditions, Sally loves horse riding and is currently training for the national championships for Riding for the Disabled Dressage. It’s a passion she’s keen to continue, and one she says she’s found her exercises from Jubilee House have really helped her with.

“After one visit, I got back home on the Thursday and then rode on the Sunday, and the difference stability wise was amazing,” Sally adds. “The physios had done such an amazing job. They also then gave me the exercises I can continue at home in my own time.

“I’d highly recommend families of firefighters, like myself, get in touch and find out more about what’s available. It’s truly amazing.”

If you feel you’d benefit from our health and wellbeing support, you can call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or visit the ‘Access Support’ tab in My Fire Fighters Charity.

And remember – if you’re feeling suicidal, you can call our Crisis Line 24 hours a day on 0300 373 0896.