WHEELCHAIR-BOUND Nicola Gibbs has told how a trained labrador has helped her reclaim her life.
MS patient Nicola, of Felpham has quite severe upper limb and hand weakness. But beautful yellow labrador Olga helps make up for that by helping her with her shopping.
Nicola, 49, said: “She’s trained unbelievably well and can bring me named items and answer the telephone.
“She pushes buttons at zebra crossings, hands my purse to cashiers and takes items in supermakets and much more.At night, she even helps undress me for bed.”
Ola’s support, though, is about much more than assisting Nicola with daily activities. “She is helping me rebuild my confidence. Sometimes, I still feel really low and don’t want to go out and see people but, when Olga looks at me, I know we have to go. I can honestly say that, in a way, she’s given me back my arms, my legs and my life,” she said.
Nicola has told about her experiences ahead of the MS Life event this weekend. MS Life is organised by the MS Society and will be held at the ExCel Centre in London for the first time in its ten years.
The biggest MS lifestyle event in Europe, it will feature talks from some of the world’s leading MS researchers, celebrities, chefs and interactive workshops. Among those taking part will be Canine Partners, which provided Nicola with Olga.
Nicola, who lives with her 52-year-old husband Adrian, first started experiencing symptoms of MS after giving birth to her daughter, Tasha, in 1992. Nicola woke up after an emergency caesarean section to find she was unable to use her hands. Within a few weeks, she could hardly keep her balance or walk. Tests during the next six months revealed she had primary progressive MS. “I was terrified,” she said. “My husband and I knew nothing about MS and we had a new-born baby which I could barely hold. I became incapable of doing even the easiest of tasks.
“MS is extremely unpredictable and we had to pick ourselves up and carry on.
“Too scared to go out, I found myself lonely and fed up when I was stuck in the house alone while my husband was working as a London firefighter.”
Nicola has always had animals in her life which helped to keep her active as her condition worsened. However, she didn’t realise that a specially trained dog could help her regain her confidence until an adopted collie came into her life. When Indy went to live with her parents in 2014, Nicola applied to Canine Partners for an assistance dog.
After her needs and abilities were assessed, she was paired with her canine partner Ola. Ola has been by Nicola’s side as a companion, and friend, ever since.
More than 100,000 people in the UK have MS. Just under a third of them live in London and the South East.