Supporting West Aussies with a neurological condition to live their version of best.
Chris McEncroe - Thrill Seeker
"At two years, I was still having help with everything. If I went off what the textbooks say, life now would be pretty different."
Chris, a father of three young girls, found himself in the midst of a life-altering journey during the final weeks of December 2016. Working tirelessly at his fledgling electrical business, he anticipated a well-deserved break filled with presents, leisurely lunches, and basking in the summer sun with his family. Little did he know, his life was about to take an unforeseen turn overnight.
"I went to work on December 23, totally normal and healthy," Chris recalls. "It hit me nearly two hours into that day; I just started getting weakness in my legs."
Despite the alarming progression of weakness to his arms by lunchtime, Chris, being a healthy guy, didn't initially grasp the severity. Finishing his work that day, he returned home, not raising any alarms with his family. However, that night marked a dramatic change as Chris went to bed and woke up unable to move.
Paramedics swiftly transported him to Busselton Hospital, where he received the diagnosis of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Chris describes it as "MS in reverse," involving the sudden loss of all nerve sheath overnight, affecting the peripheral nervous system.
Flown to Perth immediately due to the risk of cardiac arrest, Chris spent six months in Fiona Stanley's intensive care unit on a ventilator. Despite the odds, he remained responsive throughout, defying the typical blackout experienced by ICU patients.
Doctors were candid about the possibility of limited recovery, warning that significant progress past the two-year mark was rare. For Chris, resilient and unwavering, giving up was never an option.
"At two years, I was still having help with everything. If I went off what the textbooks say, life now would be pretty different," he reflects.
Chris said MSWA had been his partner in care from the beginning, when he relied on care support workers for getting out of bed, showering and dressing. Thankfully, these services are no longer needed thanks to his commitment to rehabilitation through physiotherapy.
“I don’t use them as much for my personal care anymore, because I don’t need it – which is amazing. As I have gotten stronger, I found my own ways of being able to look after myself more. But they were there from the start.”
Fast-forward to 2023, and his seven years of dedication culminated in a remarkable achievement at the 2023 Ambilympics in Metz, France.
As the sole Australian representative in the skilled trade category of electrical engineering, Chris, alongside his partner Poss, earned two medals for Australia by wiring up a mock house within two days.
“I would never have thought that I would end up with a silver medal for Australia a couple of years ago, so I think it’s a real ‘feel-good’ kind of thing,” Chris said.
Beyond the global stage, Chris, a self-proclaimed "thrill seeker," navigates his fourth season of kart racing, modified for hand control with the help of his carers. Surprisingly, this unconventional form of rehab has not only enhanced his upper-body strength but also served as a therapeutic outlet for his mental wellbeing.
Reflecting on his journey, Chris acknowledges that it has opened his eyes to a new world. Through it all, he remains an unstoppable force, proving that with determination and resilience, he can achieve whatever he sets his mind to.
“I get involved in everything, make friends, and have a go.”
For Susan, MSWA is more than just a service provider – it's her second home. Diagnosed with Spinocerebellar Ataxia, a hereditary condition affecting her balance, speech, and vision, Susan interacts with MSWA almost every day of the week to manage her symptoms and maintain her independence.
"At MSWA, there are half a dozen of us or more with the condition, and there are still more people coming in with it. They still don’t know enough about it, so we are still learning," Susan said. Her team of allied health professionals and care support workers ensures she is supported holistically – with services to look after her physical, mental, and social well-being.
“MSWA can have as little or as much impact on your life as you choose it to be,” she said. “Every one of my MSWA workers is just wonderful; they care very much for me. I love their personalities, I love their friendliness – they cannot do enough for me. My life would be so different without MSWA in it – I don’t even want to think about it.”
Outreach has become a place close to Susan’s heart, where she has bonded with new friends over shared experiences. “I get involved in everything, make friends, and have a go,” she said. “You can talk about your condition, how you are feeling – if you are having a good day or a bad day – you can talk about what you are going through. You always find something new, always get invited to new things, new special days, and different speakers come along to visit. It is also an opportunity to learn about the new services available, such as lymphedema management – we can see where new training has been put in for our benefit.”
It is also through social outreach and community support that Susan has forged a special connection with care support worker, Hawa Jalloh. “MSWA is just like a big family,” Ms. Jalloh said. “You feel involved, you aren’t just a number – you are a person who is noticed.”
“All of my clients, just like Susan, are amazing, and I learn so much from them as well. They have given me an appreciation for every little thing in life – despite their neurological conditions, our clients are happy and have a sense of fulfillment. Personally, I don’t consider them as clients – they are my friends, and it is wonderful to come to work for them.”
When it is time to get away from the stresses of everyday life, Susan finds great comfort in visiting MSWA respite accommodation Margaret Doody House, located in City Beach. “You walk in the place, and you are just welcomed,” she said. “I know them all, they know what I do and don’t do, what I like and don’t like – I love going there.