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Posted 29 June 2017
by Endurance Arthur

Proud to support Erb’s Palsy Awareness Week – Overcoming adversity: Rachel’s story

Rachel is 18 years old and currently taking her ‘A’ level exams.  When she was born the doctor pulled so hard on her head to overcome shoulder dystocia that 3 out of 5 of the nerves in her right brachial plexus were damaged.

Her right arm is 5cm shorter than the left, she has less than half the functional use she should have in her right shoulder and she cannot raise her right arm above shoulder height. Rachel finds it difficult to turn her forearm up to receive change. When she uses a keyboard for too long her wrist hurts and she has significantly reduced grip strength and power in her limb. Rachel is severely restricted when attempting to do bimanual activities above chest height. Many everyday activities such as washing and drying herself, dressing and doing her hair are a challenge for Rachel.

When she was at school Rachel asked if she could play the violin but was turned down by the music teacher who said it was not physically possible.  Undaunted, Rachel begged her mum for private music lessons: she now plays the violin and the piano at grade 6.  Sometimes the pain she experiences playing these instruments in her own adapted way is so severe that she has to take pain killers but Rachel does not let this stop her.

Another example of her determination is that Rachel really wanted to learn to horse ride when she was 8 years old.  Her physical limitations aside, the cost of the lessons was a real problem for her mum who has had to bring Rachel up on her own. Rachel’s response was to offer to pay for her riding lessons by mucking out every Saturday and working at the stables.  She is now a proficient rider who has adapted a technique to hold the reins and enjoy horse-riding.

Rachel is so determined to do as much for herself as possible despite her injury that the compensatory movements she uses and the posture she adopts contributed to a postural scoliosis in her teens.  The scoliosis got so severe that she had to have spinal surgery to stabilize her back 6 months ago.  Her only complaint is that the surgery has kept her away from horse-riding too long and she can’t wait to get back on a horse.

By far her biggest dream is to qualify and work as a commercial airline pilot.  Rachel is looking into apprenticeships and hoping to pass the aeronautical medical examination to demonstrate physical fitness for the role.  If the medical examination proves an obstacle for her, Rachel hopes to work within the aeronautical industry in some capacity.  Rachel really wants to fly and with her determination we think she will.


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About the author

Endurance Arthur

Partner and Solicitor

Partner and solicitor in the medical negligence department and a member of the Law Society's Clinical Negligence Panel