Given my age and lack of formal educational qualifications I’d have called you insane had you suggested two years ago that I’d be sharing the campus at the University of Salford with hundreds of bright young people. However, that’s exactly what has happened and the University has become my second home claiming that honour from another venerable Salford institution, Salford Royal Hospital. Apart from the occasional truly dreadful cup of coffee my experiences of the University have invariably been positive and inspiring.
Two years ago I attended a meeting with Cristina Vasilica (now Dr Vasilica) to discuss becoming a participant (I prefer the term “guinea pig”) in her PhD study on the effects of social media in a patient to patient support network for people with kidney disease, the Greater Manchester Kidney Information Network (GMKIN). Having agreed to participate I left that initial meeting unaware that within two weeks I’d be standing up at a research event to talk about Cristina’s study and oblivious to the profound changes that would happen in my life throughout the following two years.
Cristina and I found we worked well with one another and, having expressed a desire to do more within the project, I gradually took on more responsibility. To add a little context, prior to meeting Cristina I’d been very depressed for a number of years, had very low levels of self-esteem and self-confidence and I have yet to discover precisely why her project ignited a spark within me.
Since that day Cristina has demonstrated that the GMKIN as a concept works and we’re currently working on ‘Son of GMKIN’. But working on GMKIN hasn’t been my only involvement with the University. Very early in my work with GMKIN I looked to develop a Twitter presence both for @GMKINet and my own account. To that end I followed the University’s social media leaders such as @wlasinclair and @levylass and they supported both the GMKIN project and my own social media presence, offering advice and gentle encouragement. Earlier this year Cristina and I spoke at a Social Media Conference hosted by the University – a precursor to a number of talks we gave about the project this year, the highlight for me being the British Renal Society Conference in July. Something that eighteen months earlier I’d have dismissed as unthinkable.
Throughout my involvement with the University I’ve been struck by the caring, supportive nature of the staff and the positive ethos that pervades the school, from the admin staff through to the loftiest professors. It’s a lovely environment in which to work. I’ve found that most evident in my work with Dr Julie Wray at the Users and Carers conferences where I’ve now spoken three times to first year student nurses about my experiences as a patient within the healthcare system. These are such inspiring events for me and I leave each one taking far more from the event than I’ve contributed and feeling as though I’ve been part of something very special.
They say from little acorns big oak trees grow; at the moment I feel like a sapling but the confidence I’ve gained from my work on GMKIN with Cristina and my involvement in other aspects of life at the University have encouraged me to branch out into other arears. I am now working with Kidney Research UK on a three-year project to help prevent people from ending up on dialysis. I also work with the Health eResearch Centre in Manchester on improving technology to deliver lab results to kidney patients. Add to that a number of smaller roles and projects and I’m now busy most of the time.
So what is my objective? Simply to find paid work and feel like a fully functioning member of society again. Actually I have another objective – to be dropped blindfold into the Mary Seacole building and be able to navigate to the main entrance in as quick a time as possible. I suspect objective one will be realised before objective two!
I’m an ADPKD patient who was lucky enough to have a transplant in 2003 after only eleven months of dialysis. My interests, other than my support of GMKIN, include sport, music, politics and photography using my iPhone. Follow me on Twitter: @finnigr6 Comments