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Meeting the team behind life-changing Reach rehabilitation

Sheena, clinical lead (moderate to catastrophic brain injury rehabilitation), shares her background and expertise with NR Times

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In the first of a series of spotlight pieces on key figures at brain injury rehabilitation provider Reach, we meet Sheena, a long-standing part of the specialist clinical team. 

She has dedicated many years of service to the company prior to taking up her role as clinical lead (moderate to catastrophic brain injury rehabilitation) in the last quarter of 2021. 

Here, we learn more about Sheena, her journey into occupational therapy and how her vast experience supports Reach clients in life-changing rehabilitation

 

I am a native of Edinburgh, having been born and bred in the city where I now live with my husband of 36 years, Allan, and our almost four-year-old Italian Greyhound, Poppy. We have one daughter, Ashley, and one grandson, Harley, and they live with Ashley’s Italian partner Simone in Harrogate. We are immensely proud of Ashley as, despite the challenges presented by lockdown, she has established a successful online and face-to-face business offering services as a personal trainer and is getting fantastic feedback. So, if you need to get in shape, I know a girl! 

I am a passionate Scot and have pride in my part Lithuanian/part Scandinavian heritage. Lithuanian records are difficult to come by, so we have never found much in the way of information about my mum’s side of the family, but my dad was a Shetlander and, although I don’t have a copy, I remember a distant cousin coming to visit and showing us our family tree that dated back to Norway in the 15th century! 

From the time when I was still in school, I wanted to work as an Occupational Therapist (OT), but I took the wrong subjects so, to my parents’ horror, I left school at 16 with only O-Levels. I worked for a while as a clerical worker in a lab at my local hospital, then went on to work at Ferranti, making Tornado aircraft radar systems for the MOD. I loved my job with Ferranti, but I gave it up when I fell pregnant with my daughter.

When Ashley was about a year old, I looked to re-join the job market and found some part-time shift work as an auxiliary nurse, which would set me back on the pathway towards becoming an OT. I recall the morning that I was on a much needed 5am coffee break when I saw an advert for a position as an OT assistant, so I applied for the job and was accepted. The head OT saw my passion for the role and encouraged me to return to education, so I sat for a HNC in OT support, which gave me the educational points I needed to enter at the second year level of the degree course in Occupational Therapy at Queen Margaret’s College in Edinburgh… as a very mature student!

This was a busy time for me, as my husband had just started a freelance photography business and co-opted me into his ‘team’, so I became his only team member and assistant. I devised a system for organising weddings, from the scheduling, to the styles chosen by the couple, and the costings for the packages that we offered. On the day, I was the assistant who gathered the people for the formal shoots and arranged their cues and stood around holding reflectors to ensure the best possible lighting. It was a very stressful, unpaid job that I started just as I was contemplating returning to education.

During my degree course, I took up a placement in neuro-rehabilitation and discovered very early on that I had found my specialism, with an ambition to join the Scottish Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service (SBIRS) at the Astley Ainslie Hospital (AAH) in Edinburgh. It was this ambition that set me on a pathway that would culminate in my taking up post as the Occupational Therapy clinical lead with the one of the UK’s foremost neuro-rehabilitation services.

After an 18 month rotation gaining some experience as a ‘basic grade’ OT at the Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary, my constant pestering of the head OT at the AAH paid off and, after successfully navigating the application process, I was offered a role as Senior Grade II OT in SBIRS. Over my years of service, I was promoted to a Grade I, then, with the encouragement and support of the consultant neurologist, I became the first Occupational Therapy clinical lead in SBIRS which was also the very first Occupational Therapy clinical lead in Lothian.

Eventually this role developed into the Occupational Therapy clinical lead for the four areas of neuro-rehab services at the AAH. In this role I managed the daily operational management of services and staff, had a clinical role and a consultancy role, was involved in developing services, ensured education for students and staff, and served on a number of local and national committees representing neuro-rehab occupational therapy services in the Lothian area. 

My head OT at SBIRS 17 years ago was the Senior Programme Manager (SPM) for Reach in Scotland at the time and they introduced me to the work that Reach was doing and encouraged me to join the team. This led to me being in the very fortunate position of having my dream job with the NHS and a part-time role in the private sector.

In four short years, I took over as the SPM for Scotland. In 2021, I applied for the new role as part-time clinical lead (moderate to catastrophic brain injury rehabilitation) with Reach and am now privileged to oversee an incredible team of passionate and dedicated clinicians that serve the length and breadth of the UK, after retiring from 22 years of full time NHS service with the neuro-rehabilitation team at the AAH.

One of my greatest passions in life is travel and I follow the sun, which is a bit of a necessity for a sun-worshiper that is resident in Scotland! I have been very lucky to be well travelled over the years, with most of my adventures taking me around Europe and the Americas. I recently returned from Elba and am planning another escape later in the year.

I have been an ordained elder of the Church of Scotland for 30 years, where I sing in the church band and we help to lead worship each Sunday. We also play for gigs outside of church circles, where we get to sing secular songs and have even made a few albums over the years. I write songs with the guitarist; he writes the notes and I write the lyrics… we have great fun and it’s very cathartic. 

When not working, singing or planning my holidays, you can usually find me in my garden. It’s not much, but I love to potter around in the fresh air and harvest the fruits of my labours, having cultivated a herb garden, and a little fruit and veg.

Thanks for taking a little journey through my past with me. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I think that from my humble beginnings, I now find myself the clinical lead for moderate to catastrophic brain injury rehabilitation for Reach.

And myself and my guitarist are currently unsigned, so if any of you reading this happen to be an executive with one of the big labels, I know a girl!

  • Reach provides both remote and home-based neuro-rehabilitation services for those with minor to catastrophic acquired brain injuries, please direct initial enquiries to our team by email at [email protected] or call us on 01423 326000.

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