Michael sadly died on 7th March after a short illness. Although he was in hospital, he had been surrounded by the people who cared for him in his final days and was with his key worker when he died.
Michael had a remarkable life in many ways. He was born with cerebral palsy which meant he was unable to effectively use his limbs and didn’t develop speech. In the early 1960’s there was not the same support for children with this condition as there is now, Michael lived with his family for the early part of his life, but without the help needed at home he moved to Stansfield View (a long stay hospital for people with learning disabilities), first for respite care and eventually living there permanently. Over the years he lived in a several different care settings, eventually moving to Heatherstones in 2007.
Wherever Michael lived, he had a big impact on everyone he met, he was the most positive person I’ve ever known and always seemed to make the most of every day. Although he didn’t speak he made himself heard and was a gifted communicator. Anywhere Michael was there was usually a lot of laughter and excitement. He had a retentive memory, never forgot someone once he’d met them and thrived on drama; if anything was said about anyone Michael would want to be in the thick of it. He loved being surrounded by people, and due to his charismatic personality and charm people were inevitably drawn to him. Michael was adept at networking before the term was invented, everywhere he went he would come across someone who knew him.
In a lot of ways Michael was ahead of his time. Through sheer force of personality, he was able to get the most out of life and create opportunities for himself. He was one of the first people with cerebral palsy in Calderdale to have a power-assisted wheelchair which had a huge boost to his independence. It’s hard to imagine him not being able to get around under his own steam – but at the time this was rare. He also used a Bliss board to support his communication, an indication of how exceptional his memory was is that he could pick out a symbol from over 200 without even looking at the board.
I first met Michael in 2008, a year after he moved to Heatherstones. I’ll always consider him as much a colleague as anything else. Michael created a lot of opportunities, not only for himself but for a wide range of people across many different organisations. He was a member of St Anne’s Board, interviewed widely both within St Anne’s and for the University of Huddersfield, as well as teaching there and promoting inclusion. In 2015 he made a film with Huddersfield and Calderdale NHS Foundation Trust, The University of Huddersfield and St Anne’s Community Services to share the story of his swallow deteriorating and the life saving surgery he had to have a percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy (PEG) fitted. Typically, Michael always found a positive in every situation, he loved making the film. He was extremely proud of his image and always happy to pose for a photo. The film led to invitations from numerous care providers for him to share his experiences and in doing so help other people going through a similar situation and their carers.
Michael was influential in the University of Huddersfield being shortlisted for the Student Nursing Times Awards in 2016, he was undoubtedly the star of the show, and thoroughly enjoyed being the centre of attention at the glitzy event at London’s Park Lane Hilton Hotel. There was a lot of laughter that day, Michael was always one for pushing the boundaries, sweet talking one of the nurses into giving him Champaign via his PEG and holding court surrounded by friends and colleagues.
Looking back it’s hard for me not to smile when I think of Michael, I’m genuinely proud to have known him. It may sound like a cliché but he really did touch many people lives and crammed a lot into his 56 years – he always lived life to the full and never let obstacles get in his way. His lifetime spanned a period of unprecedented change for people disabilities, and Michael played his part in helping change attitudes and improving opportunities for many of the people we support.
Gerard Wainwright – 25 March 2019