Service users typically come to The Norfolk Hospice after a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness and often they are suffering from debilitating symptoms. They are often first referred to our Day Therapy services.

Day Therapy Services are provided by a team of therapists including Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapist, Rehabilitation Assistant, Complementary Therapist and with the support of volunteers. Not only do the services focus on improving physical health, they also offer peer support which reduces the feeling of isolation and improves mental wellbeing.

Breathlessness is a common and frightening symptom for many people living with chronic and end of life illness. It can affect all aspects of life, reducing a person’s ability to do the things that they enjoy and often life becomes very narrow and focussed on survival. This frequently impacts on quality of life and feeling like life is worthless. However, with the right support and education, it is possible to live well with breathlessness and reduce the impact of the symptoms.

We provide a three week education course which focuses on managing and overcoming breathlessness. We also educate on ways to manage low energy or fatigue, as increasing muscle strength and overall movement is critical in reversing the cycle of inactivity.

Following from the breathlessness management course we are able to gently support reactivity and re-conditioning through our exercise programme. This works on building muscle strength, improving balance and encouraging cardiovascular fitness. The focus is on personal goals and to encourage people to recognise what they want to achieve, and create a plan for how they are going to work towards those goals.

“We say to people that it may not be possible to change what is happening in your heart and lungs, but we can influence how we think, feel and behave,” Nichola Child, Specialist Palliative Care Occupational Therapist, said. ­­­­

We spoke to three ex-service users, Paul, Brian and Yvonne, who improved so greatly following their treatments at The Norfolk Hospice that they were discharged.

Paul’s Story

Paul is the oldest of five children and was born in Zimbabwe and lived all around Europe growing up. He married his wife Bridget at age 32 and they enjoyed almost thirty years of marriage with their two daughters. Sadly, Bridget passed away suddenly on 10th February 2020 while Paul was away from home working as a lorry driver.

Four days after Bridget’s passing, Paul collapsed and was admitted to hospital for the first time in his life. He was soon diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and only 29% of his heart was working. Because of his condition he had his driving licence revoked and he could not return to work. He was soon referred to The Norfolk Hospice to manage his breathlessness and then on to the exercise classes. As this was during lockdown, these were done virtually over video call.

He said: “To start with, yes, it was hard work and I was always a little bit nervous. But what came out of it for me more than anything else was the camaraderie and looking forward to the sessions. Louise (Physiotherapist) and the rest of the team were absolutely brilliant and they made you feel so relaxed. I’d go back tomorrow if I could.”

Paul thanks the classes for his improved fitness, saying that immediately following his diagnosis, he could not walk more than 200 metres without collapsing. Now, he walks 5 kilometres on a regular basis. “I feel a whole lot better both physically and mentally,” he says.

Paul attributes both his medication and the support he had at The Norfolk Hospice for improving his quality of life and he now has 40% use of his heart. As Paul had improved so well, following his final assessment he was discharged from the classes after almost a year.

Asked what he would say to somebody who was being referred to the Hospice, he said: “Go for it with eyes wide open and take advantage of ­­­everything they have to offer and know that they are there to help. They are very understanding and caring people and they want you to get better.”

Brian’s Story

Brian is in his early 80s and has lived in the West Norfolk area all of his life. He joined the army at 19 but became a coach driver at 32 before his retirement in 2000 following his diagnosis of Type II Diabetes. He worked at Searles Golf Course and his son-in-law’s boxing business before retiring ten years ago. His family doctor was none other than Dr Hugh Ford, the founder of The Norfolk Hospice.

During his annual check-up in March 2019, Brian mentioned that he had been experiencing intermittent chest pain. Following an ECG that indicated that he had suffered a heart attack, an ambulance was called and Brian was admitted to the hospital. There, he was told that he had experienced heart failure. He later discovered that this was due to too much fluid in his blood causing strain on his heart. Because of this, the left side of his heart is permanently paralysed.

Brian was referred to the Hospice shortly afterwards as he was suffering from shortness of breath. He completed the breathlessness classes and then the exercises, initially in person but then virtually once lockdown began. He was then discharged in May 2021. Today, Brian’s blood pressure has improved massively and he has lost over a stone and a half in weight.

“I really enjoyed it and the Hospice were fantastic. All the treatment I had here was fantastic and it was great meeting everyone. I couldn’t fault the team at all, they were marvellous and went above and beyond,” Brian said.

Yvonne’s Story

Yvonne is in her 50s and lives with Ian, her husband of 36 years, and their two dogs in Stoke Ferry. They have two children and three grandchildren. Two years ago, Yvonne would describe herself as being in good health, although she suffered with seasonal asthma. However, in December 2019, her latest bout of seasonal asthma wasn’t shifting and she found she couldn’t breathe properly. After lots of tests, she got the diagnosis of Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome.

Yvonne was soon referred to the Hospice just as the first lockdown began in 2020. She completed a four week programme of breathlessness management and then went on to the exercise segment, all done virtually. For Yvonne, the breathlessness classes were game changing. She said:

“It genuinely used to take me all day to change a bed because I couldn’t breathe properly. They taught me how to breathe properly, to exhale as deeply as I can go and then breathe in to get more breath into my lungs, and that was revolutionary. Why did I never realise this? I use that technique on a daily basis now and it’s something so easy but makes such a difference. It changed the way I was able to do stuff. I can now change the bed in an hour and a half, which is such a difference from two years ago when it would take all day.”

Before her diagnosis, she typically walked 15,000 steps a day. Following this, she was lucky if she could reach 1,000. Today, following treatment with medication and the classes, she can now manage up to 7,000 steps each day. “My main aim was to be able to take the dogs for a walk. I can’t do it when it’s windy and too hot and I can’t go too far, but I can now do that and it was my one wish to be able to do that again. And it’s all down to the Hospice. Without you guys I would not be in the position I am in now,” she said.

Yvonne was discharged from the Hospice after a year as she had improved so much. Although Yvonne had experiences with hospices beforehand, she wasn’t aware of the range of services they provide. She said: “I thought hospices were just for end of life, even following my mum’s experience in one. I wanted to try anything that could help, and my God, it has helped!”