Old 04-06-2009, 07:10 PM #1 (permalink)
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Default The teacher who put her pupils before her health

From The Daily Mail, UK

The Mail’s annual Inspirational Women of the Year awards honour the extraordinary women who improve the lives of others.

To nominate your own Inspirational Woman, complete the coupon below. Today, LAURA MOSS focuses on a truly inspirational teacher...

Just past 6am and Julie Genovesa is already in a rush to be at school on time to teach Year 4 their French verbs. She has yet to brush her teeth, wash her face, have breakfast and get dressed. She will have to remember to pack the maths books she marked last night, as well as the gold and silver gel pens she bought at the weekend as a treat for her pupils.

But unlike almost every other school teacher in the country, Julie, 52, from Basildon, Essex, has to do everything without being able to move from the neck down.

It all started with a trip to the cinema in August 2003. Julie and her son, Joseph, then five, and her best friend, Lisa, were enjoying the film when halfway through Julie began to feel sick.

She quietly crept out of her seat and walked towards the exit. It was only when she had been absent for more than ten minutes that Lisa started to worry. As she turned to investigate, Lisa saw cinema staff crouching over her friend, who was lying on the floor in a confused state having fainted.

An ambulance was called and after a few tests Julie was pronounced fit and sent home.

‘I didn’t give it a second’s thought. I just put the whole episode down to being one of those things. When you have a young child you just have to get on with it,’ Julie, now 52, says.

Indeed, Julie’s fainting episode remained a one-off incident and though she often felt tired and could fall asleep at the drop of a hat - even in the middle of the day - she assumed it was natural for a mother of a small child.

It was only when a colleague commented on Julie’s breathlessness while they were climbing the stairs one day that she decided it was time to see a doctor.

A series of tests eliminated a number of muscle-tiring conditions including ME and MS, and Julie remained unfazed by her slightly puzzling symptoms, believing that they would pass with time.

But six months later she received a devastating diagnosis: Julie’s symptoms were caused by motor neurone disease, an illness that destroys the nerve cells that control movement in the body.

It was incurable and she could expect to live no longer than 18 months.

As if this was not earth-shattering enough, Julie was left to deal with the cataclysmic blow alone. None of the hospital staff had thought to call her husband, Frank, in advance so he could be there by her side for the diagnosis.

‘It was news of such enormity that I simply refused to accept it,’ says Julie. ‘How do you accept that you’re going to die? So I haven’t, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to for a while. There are too many pupils to torture first.’

Not only has Julie outlived her life expectancy, she also works three days a week at Buttsbury Junior School in Billericay, Essex, despite being in a wheelchair and having to wear a 24-hour ventilator, which one of her pupils remarked makes her sound ‘really cool, like Darth Vader’.

If Julie had her way, though, she would work five days a week, but Essex County Council, together with Occupational Health, declared her fit to work only three. ‘There’s no martyrdom here. I happen to be in a job I love and at a school with unbelievably supportive staff,’ she says.

‘The head teacher has fitted my classroom with a ramp for my wheelchair, and my colleagues all rally round to make my work there possible.’

Before Julie became a teacher, she had been a business analyst in the City, where she had met and married Frank, 44, a cab driver who then worked for a stockbroking firm.

She loved the buzz of the City, but it was always her dream to teach primary school children. She quit the City when Joseph was born and trained as a teacher when he was four.

It was a year into her teaching career at Buttsbury that she was diagnosed. But two months later, Julie was back in the classroom and remained at work despite her deteriorating health and gradual loss of mobility.

Head teacher Vaughan Collier welcomed the opportunity for the children to learn about disability through Julie’s experience, and together they actively encourage questions about her condition.

‘When I first had the breathing machine, I let the children feel what it was like against their hand. I turned it into a bit of a chemistry lesson.

‘It is an opportunity for them to realise that being disabled is not a negative thing. Disabled people are able to function in society if society functions normally around them.

‘Children should see that disability is not a get-out clause. There is always a way round an obstacle.’

A voice-activated software package on Julie’s laptop enables her to project her lessons onto an interactive whiteboard.

She changes the words and images her 31 pupils see on the board by speaking into the computer. It also allows her to mark homework, manage her emails and surf the internet.

Julie’s physical degeneration has forced her to readjust to a gradual loss of independence. She insists that her life would be very different without her devoted husband and son, who she says act as her ‘arms and legs’.

‘I couldn’t do it without them. Frank has to lift me out of bed in the morning while Joseph, now 11, chooses my clothes and jewellery and helps me dress. I would be lost without them.

‘We all have difficult times when we feel despondent, but I am truly blessed to know how much I am loved.’
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Old 04-06-2009, 08:45 PM #2 (permalink)
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What a truly inspirational woman! Talk about a real-life heroine.
Thanks for posting this, rocmg.
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Old 04-08-2009, 10:16 PM #3 (permalink)
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At some point I saw a video about her on the web; google it. Her story is even more incredible when you see her at work. Remarkable!
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Old 04-09-2009, 10:14 AM #4 (permalink)
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Wow, this Julie is so courageous and such an inspiration! This story made me cry, made me cheer, and made me realize how much attitude can affect one's journey. She is helping herself and training all those around her to be comfortable around a disabled person. Many many people will have changed lives because of her.
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