By Alex Matthews
Meet the UK’s first frontline nurse to work in a wheelchair.
Michelle Quested lost the use of her legs when two slipped discs crushed her spine.
But despite being wheelchair bound the lifelong nurse was determined to get back to her clinical role at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
After paying £1,800 of her own money to make necessary changes to her chair, Michelle was able to return to the hospital’s neonatal cardiology ward.
The selfless nurse now uses her disability and her experience to comfort sick children and instruct student nurses.
The 33-year-old, from Birmingham, said: “I cannot find any other frontline nursing staff in the UK who use a wheelchair, after doing a lot of research.
“But nurses are born to be nurses, and I wasn’t going to let being in a wheelchair stop me.
“I decided I wanted to be a nurse when I was 16, and I’ve worked at the Children’s Hospital all my life.
“It’s not always been easy. I face day-to-day difficulties as a wheelchair user that I hadn’t really thought about before.
“But I decided I wanted to be the best and most active wheelchair user I can be, and part of that was going back to a job I love.
Michelle qualified as a nurse in 2004 and immediately began working at Birmingham Children’s hospital.
She was working as a staff nurse at the neonatal cardiology department when she was involved in a car accident in 2010.
Four weeks later, two of her discs ruptured in her lumber spine and crushed her spinal cord.
Michelle said: “After the accident I was walking around for a month with back pain, but I didn’t think much of it because it was manageable and back pain as a nurse is an occupational hazard.
“Then I began to lose the feeling in my legs. It happened when I was at work, and I didn’t know what was going on.
“The pain in my back was excruciating.
“I went from walking normally to completely losing all sensation and movement in my legs within 24 hours.”
She was rushed straight to hospital, where an MRI scan revealed the cause of her loss of feeling.
Michelle had surgery immediately to decompress her spinal cord.
However, when she awoke from the procedure she still had no feeling in her legs, and was told by doctors it was likely to remain that way.
She was sent to the Midlands Centre for Spinal Injuries in Oswestry, Shropshire, where she underwent rehabilitation for a further five months.
Michelle said: “It was horrific.
“I had a subsequent surgery 10 days later, but after that I was only able to move my big toe on my right foot.
“It was also hard because I was far away from home.
“About six weeks after my surgery I had a frank discussion with the consultant, who said I was unlikely to get any movement back.
“I spent the next week with the curtains drawn around my bed and I did not want to see anybody.
“But in that time I decided I was going to be the best possible wheelchair user I could be. I knew then that I wanted to get back to work.”
Michelle first returned to work 11 months after the accident in May 2011 as part of the educational team teaching student nurses.
After a year, she combined her teaching experience with her previous cardiac knowledge, and returned to instruct student nurses in the cardiac department.
But she still wanted a more hands-on clinical role, and began to research whether it would be possible to work in a wheelchair.
After making £1,800 modifications to her wheelchair, supported by the Cavell Nurses Trust, Michelle finally returned to frontline nursing in March 2016.
She said: “I needed to make my wheelchair battery rather than push powered to lower the infection control risk. I could not have my hands touching the wheels before treating patients.
“That also made the wheelchair narrower, making it easier to move around equipment.
“It took a lot of determination to get there, but I was so happy to return to my role.
“Children’s and parents’ reactions have been really positive.
“Whenever children ask me about being in a wheelchair, I tell them that I have poorly legs like they have a poorly heart, and it helps them to understand.
“It does not faze them at all.”
Outside of work, Michelle likes to keep as active as possible despite being in a wheelchair.
In 2013 she travelled by herself to South Africa to attend the World Cardiology Congress, where she also went diving with sharks.
She also sings in a choir and volunteers for PAPYRUS, a charity working to prevent suicide.