A MUM who was paralysed from her chest down in a horror accident at home is campaigning to improve benefits for people with spinal injuries.
Cathy Crilly, 52, fell down the stairs at her former home and broke her neck.
She suffered a complete lesion of her spinal cord which left her with no feeling from the chest down.
Cathy can use her arms, but not her hands, and relies completely on round-the-clock support from carers and her husband, Thomas, 52.
A little known impact of having a high spinal injury – where the spinal cord is snapped at a higher vertebrae resulting in more serious paralysis – is not being able to control body temperature.
Cathy, from Glasgow Road, Paisley, can’t move around to keep herself warm and her circulation has also been affected.
Now she is backing a campaign by Spinal Injuries Scotland (SIS) for people with spinal injuries to receive the winter fuel allowance, which is paid out to everyone aged over 60 in the UK.
She said: “The only way I can describe it is if you were to hold a bag of frozen peas against your arm for a long time, that’s what it feels like for me when I get cold.
“It’s very uncomfortable. I need to be roasting to bring my temperature up again.
“And, as with all high spinal cord injuries, there is a serious risk of hypothermia if it’s too cold.
“I’ve seen me sitting in my living room with a hat and gloves on trying to keep warm all year round. I try and stop that frozen-peas feeling before it starts.”
Mum-of-three Cathy, who had to give up her dream job as a primary school teacher after her accident, relies on benefits and Thomas’s income to survive financially.
She said: “I’ve written to the benefits office and they’ve said the benefits I’m on should cover the cost of heating my home. But what about the pensioners who are on benefits but still get the winter fuel allowance?
“I’m paying £200 a month for my gas and electricity and the weather is mild at the moment. Obviously as the winter gets colder, the bill is going to go up.
“Senior citizens who have the winter fuel allowance aren’t means tested. It’s given to everybody irrespective of their finances.
“It’s not that I grudge the over-60s getting that money, I don’t at all. I just think that people with spinal injuries are also in a vulnerable position and deserve help with their fuel bills as well.
“It’s a genuine need for people like myself and is something I feel quite strongly about.
“I don’t want to put on a sad face and be all ‘woe is me’ about it, but it would help if we had the money – it’s a definite necessity. I’m never comfortable in my own home.”
Cathy, who has three sons, Paul, 32, Martin, 25 and Joseph, 22, contacted her local councillor Susan McDonald to draw attention to the SIS campaign.
Susan said: “I got in touch with Spinal Injuries Scotland to find out more about the campaign after Cathy got in touch with me.
“I didn’t realise body temperature was an issue for people with spinal injuries, and I’m sure many Paisley Daily Express readers don’t either.
“I think once there is more awareness, most will agree it’s totally unfair that people like Cathy don’t get this extra help.
“Everyone is feeling the cost of rising fuel bills and people like Cathy need this.”
Councillor McDonald put forward a motion to Renfrewshire Council backing the SIS campaign and it received unanimous support from all parties.
Now Cathy is continuing to send letters to politicians to draw attention to the issue.
She added: “I’m an assertive person and am determined to get those letters sent away to MPs and MSPs to raise awareness of it.
“I’m lucky, I have carers who can help me but a lot of people can get quite depressed after having a spinal injury.
“If I can do this to help people then I will.”
To find out more about the winter fuel payment campaign, check the SIS website at www.sisonline.org or call the organisation on freephone 0800 0132 305.