New course for life

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - FRONT PAGE - Kaylee Martin

A MO­TOR­BIKE ac­ci­dent changed Re­becca Cochran’s life for­ever. The Vic­to­ria Park res­i­dent is now work­ing to raise aware­ness for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from brachial plexus in­juries.

A HOR­RIFIC mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent in March last year changed the life of Vic­to­ria Park res­i­dent Re­becca Cochran for­ever.

While rid­ing in the coun­try with her fam­ily and friends, Ms Cochran hit gravel and was thrown from her bike at 80km/h.

“I hit a tree af­ter I stopped slid­ing, most of the force hit my right shoul­der and when I stopped my arm was bent be­hind me and looked vis­i­bly wrong,” Ms Cochran said.

Af­ter months of surgery, doc­tors ap­point­ments and pain, Ms Cochran was di­ag­nosed with a brachial plexus – a net­work of nerves run­ning from the spine – in­jury to her right arm, ren­der­ing it near use­less.

“I can use my hand but it’s awk­ward be­cause I don’t have much dex­ter­ity; it took months be­fore I could move it,” she said.

Her in­jury was a mys­tery to med­i­cal staff and she said did not re­ceive a lot of sup­port. As a re­sult the prob­lem went un­di­ag­nosed for months.

“I kept com­plain­ing that I didn’t have any feel­ing, I was in a cast for bro­ken bones and doc­tors said I’d ex­pe­ri­ence numb­ness,” she said.

“I didn’t know any­thing about (the) brachial plexus and the hospi­tals didn’t ei­ther. It wasn’t un­til later that we re­alised.”

The lack of in­for­ma­tion or re­sources avail­able to Ms Cochran about her new life-chang­ing in­jury ig­nited a pas­sion to make a change.

“I’m a re­searcher by na­ture, so when I was di­ag­nosed I jumped on Google straight away and I couldn’t find any group or or­gan­i­sa­tion, it just kept com­ing up blank,” she said.

“I started a blog as an out­let and there are just so many other peo­ple I found on­line all do­ing the same thing as me.”

Once sim­ple tasks, such as putting on a bra, ty­ing her hair in a pony­tail or do­ing up but­tons have be­come daily ob­sta­cles.

While Ms Cochran went on her blog­ging jour­ney to find out new ways to main­tain her in­de­pen­dence, she said she had peo­ple from all over the world ask­ing for her ad­vice.

“Peo­ple were email­ing me all the time, and if I didn’t know the an­swers I’d re­search it or put them in touch with the right peo­ple,” she said.

“I’ve even been to the ex­tent of re­search­ing to find a sur­geon for some­one in In­dia who didn’t know what to do.”

The suc­cess of her blog, Brachial Girl, sparked an idea to start na­tion­wide change.

“There weren’t any or­gan­i­sa­tions in Aus­tralia and there re­ally should be; in the UK and US they have or­gan­i­sa­tions that of­fer sup­port,” she said.

To kick start the process Ms Cochran cre­ated a ba­sic web­site that gained the sup­port of ev­ery brachial plexus sur­geon or spe­cial­ist in the coun­try.

“I just want to raise aware­ness be­cause that’s how big things start,” she said.

To read more about Re­becca Cochran’s story visit her blog www. brachial­girl.com.

For more in­for­ma­tion on brachial plexus visit www.brachialplexus­in­juryaus­tralia.com.au. EARLY de­tec­tion is the most im­por­tant fac­tor in treat­ing a brachial plexus in­jury, ac­cord­ing to oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist Jaslyn Cullen.

Ms Cullen spe­cialises in brachial plexus, pe­riph­eral nerve in­juries and con­di­tions of the hand, wrist and el­bow.

As a clin­i­cal oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist, she works with pa­tients to fa­cil­i­tate new move­ment or es­tab­lish new ways to move post-nerve or ten­don trans­fers.

She said de­layed re­fer­ral to a spe­cial­ist was a com­mon prob­lem for pa­tients with brachial plexus in­juries and at­trib­uted it to a lack of knowl­edge on the in­jury.

“We know nerve trans­fers are best car­ried out be­tween 4-6 months and there­fore early re­fer­ral for as­sess­ment, di­ag­no­sis and pro­vi­sion for treat­ment op­tions is es­sen­tial,” Ms Cullen said.

“But the in­juries can be missed be­cause they are usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with high im­pact trauma that re­quires ad­di­tional med­i­cal treat­ment.

“There is in­ad­e­quate education re­gard­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the in­jury and the im­por­tance of an early re­fer­ral.”

An or­gan­i­sa­tion for the in­jury would help to ed­u­cate pa­tients and med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers and stop pa­tients feel­ing lost in the sys­tem, Ms Cullen said.

“Al­most all pa­tients ex­press re­lief to talk to some­one who un­der­stands their in­jury, so an or­gan­i­sa­tion would as­sist.”

Pic­ture: Jon Hew­son www.com­mu­ni­typix.com.au d447656

Re­becca Cochran has cre­ated a web­site to help sup­port suf­fer­ers of brachial plexus in­juries.

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