Keeping fit to fight MS with help of volunteers

A deep pressure oxygen chamber isn’t the first thing you expect to find when you’re visiting a medical centre.

In fact, it looks more like something out of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea than it does something a doctor would prescribe.

The oxygen chamber at the Chilterns MS Centre.

The oxygen chamber at the Chilterns MS Centre.

Nor are giant multi-coloured bouncy balls what you anticipate.

But both help treat multiple sclerosis at the Chilterns MS Centre in Wendover.

Of course it’s not just hi-tech equipment and in other corners there are welcoming sofas and mountains of homemade cakes that give the building, opened a year ago in August by patron Sir David Jason, its bright and airy feel

Although MS, which affects the central nervous system, can’t be cured, the centre helps patients control symptoms, which can range from memory loss to chronic fatigue.

For patients and their carers the centre can turn around their approach to living with the disease.

John Greaves used to struggle with mobility problems caused by his MS.

“The people here and their treatment has allowed me to return to work and also got me back driving,” he said.

It’s seeing people like John daily that motivates Robert Breakwell.

The new chief executive’s ground floor office means he sees first hand the difference the centre makes.

“MS is absolutely different for almost everybody,” he said.

“It’s a progressive disease. People will get worse either steadily or suddenly and they’re very unlikely to get better from where they’ve gone down to.

“A lot of the work that we do is aimed at maintaining that level of good health and mobility for as long as possible.”

Before he came to the centre earlier this year Robert, who was recently nominated for a Pride of Britain Award for his charity efforts, worked at the Tring-based Iain Rennie Hospice at Home – now named Rennie Grove Hospice Care.

He founded The Pepper Foundation, which provides home nursing to sick children, following the success of a fundraising musical dreamed up by his late wife Karen, who lost her battle to cancer in 1988. Robert, who lives in Aston Clinton, has since gone on to remarry and has two teenage children.

Volunteers give the centre its heart and soul. Giving up 16,000 hours a year, there are 85 pairs of helping hands baking for the cafe, typing at the reception desk and operating the oxygen therapy chamber but the search is on for more people to help.

“People don’t know the massive difference that the treatments we offer make and I think if we tell them about that then they will want to support us through volunteering, fundraising and the other ways that people can help,” he said.

Meanwhile the centre will continue to serve 800 patients. And while the futuristic equipment might be the first thing you see, it’s the feeling of welcome that’s the lasting impression.