We don't usually profile individual iGreens but are making an exception for my friend and colleague Dan Strother.
Not all hunters wear green wellies* and ride to hounds. This physicist, researcher, and soon to be medical student hunts from his wheelchair or calipers with his falcon Daisy. He will be marching tomorrow with the iGreens and the Countryside Alliance. He's also an iConservative.
The following article, which recently appeared in the British Medical Journal, failed to mention his environmental credentials, but tells the rest of his story. Read it below.
Jim Thornton 21 Sept 2002
Daniel Strother has had more mountains to climb than most to get into medicine. It is a testament to his determination and strength of character that on 18 September this year he will at last begin medical school.
He always wanted to be a doctor but narrowly missed being accepted for medical school the first time round. So he studied physics at Leeds university instead, although his dream to become a doctor was not dampened during this time. After gaining his degree, he was accepted for the graduate entry programme at St George's medical school in London after passing the required graduate Australian medical school admission test (GAMSAT).1
So what's so unusual about that, you may ask. Over 100 such graduates have had a similar experience at St George's over the past two years.1 Well, two weeks after passing the exam, Daniel (or Dan as he prefers to be called) fell while winter ice climbing on Ben Nevis, when the lower part of a rock broke off around the gear that was holding him. His girlfriend Emily could only watch in horror from the other end of the rope as he plummeted down the mountain. Fortunately, she had her mobile phone with her (and, even more fortunately, managed to get a signal in the rough terrain of Ben Nevis) so she could call for help.
Within half an hour Dan was being airlifted by the Lochaber mountain rescue team to the emergency department in Fort William. The department there has much experience with such events and has its own specialist in spinal injuries.
Initially Dan was not told anything and Emily (then a fourth year medical student) knew the diagnosis before he did when she saw the x ray. Fractured T12 and L1. Daniel was paraplegic.
The next day he was airlifted to the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow where he had titanium rods inserted in his back. He stayed there a week before being airlifted (yet again) to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield (which is Yorkshire's regional spinal injuries unit.)
The six month stay at Pinderfields was very long and tough. Throughout the first month Dan was still in terrible pain. He describes it as "like having a spear in my back." He was on a concoction of opiates and other analgesia to help control this and the terrible neuropathic pain that was now plaguing him. He had cruel dreams during this time. He recalls: "I kept dreaming that I could walk. I would wake up in the morning still thinking I could and try to get out off bed."
Rehabilitation was a slow process. He was frustrated because "I wanted to get off my backside but couldn't," and unfortunately got a natal cleft pressure sore. He is now able to get up on callipers and crutches every day though he admits to having some "wobbly moments."
Although he has had multiple reasons to feel depressed and sorry for himself, this is not Dan's style. In the initial few weeks some of his friends and relatives viewed his life as being "over" whereas Dan was just as determined as ever to pursue his goal of becoming a doctor.
Just before his discharge from Pinderfields he was due to have an informal interview with the dean of St George's, Patricia Hughes, having missed the selection interviews in April, when he was still quite ill. He says: "She was very supportive and suggested that I start a year later than planned. I had to undergo the selection interview and have an occupational health assessment but that was it."
So did Dan sit around and mope for a year? Not likely. Putting his physics to good use, he started research in medical physics, continuing his MSc straight after discharge from hospital while working in obstetrics with Nigel Simpson, a consultant obstetrician in Leeds.
This has been a very exciting time as they have pioneered a "birth predictor monitor" (which you may have read about recently in some of the British broadsheet newspapers). Dan explained that it can predict when a woman will go into labour by analysing the nature of the uterine contractions and feeding this information into a software programme that he wrote.
The staff at the unit have followed Nigel Simpson's lead and taken Dan's circumstances in their stride. In fact, Dan is preparing for his next career move by going to theatre on his callipers and crutches to observe caesarean sections. He explains: "There will be some surgeons out there who are not used to having someone like me in their theatre. I want to get used to the theatre environment, showing that it is possible and not a problem."
But it is not just other people's attitude to his wheelchair that Dan has to take into account. It's also his own. He says: "You have to be confident, charming, willing and able, and up front about it. Just get on with it really. I tend to have quite an aggressive attitude towards obstacles and don't accept the word `can't.' Instead I just have to think a bit harder about how I am going to do it and accept that it might take a bit longer." He obviously practises what he preaches as he has just driven to Hungary and back (a round trip of over 4000 km) in his converted Ford Focus and goes down the escalators on the London underground backwards in his wheelchair.
Dan also believes that he has a lot
to bring to medicine because of his experience. He will have a great deal of
insight and empathy for his patients, and he will also know what you
should absolutely not say to patients. For example, a student
physiotherapist told him the week after his accident that he would
never walk again, and an orthopaedic surgeon told him that he was a
man so he could take it.
He understandably does not want to be defined by his wheelchair but knows
that there will always be people who don't think he can become a
doctor because of the practical implications. He says: "Some
people think that you can't do anything. If someone has a cardiac
arrest, the first thing you do is shout for help." He has,
however, been undergoing intense rehabilitation to regain any small
but useful lost function and hopes that one day he might be able to
use ankle callipers.
When I ask him what his advice would be to others who might one day find
themselves in a similar situation, he answers without hesitation:
"Go for it. Don't give up on your dreams and never accept no for
As I watch him wheel up the heaving London street towards the British Museum
(he has time to kill before he gets the train back to Leeds), I have
no doubt whatsoever that Daniel Strother will always follow his own
advice. I just hope that other people don't make it harder for him.2
Reprinted from the student BMJ 7 Sept 2002 325: s78
Here is a picture of Dan and his falcon Daisy on the Countryside Alliance March
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