Taking art all in his stride
Date published: 25 July 2014
DETERMINED Garry Holt spent six months in a neuro-rehabilitation unit learning to walk again.
Still only in his 30s, Garry, from Royton, had been reduced to this shocking state by the incurable muscle-wasting condition, Kennedy’s Disease.
But during those dark days, Garry discovered an artistic talent which has now seen one of his works displayed at Gallery Three and Four in Touchstones, Rochdale.
Garry was 29 when he was diagnosed with Kennedy’s Disease, a genetic disorder of specialist nerve cells which control muscle movement. It only affects about 1 in 40,000 men. Until then, there had been little indication anything was seriously wrong, having enjoyed an active, sporty life. Garry, who was working as a forklift truck driver at the time of his diagnosis, said: “I’d suffered from muscle cramps in the past but then my legs started to give way while I was walking in the street or playing football. I kept wondering what was going on and after a year of tests I was diagnosed with Kennedy’s Disease. For the two or three years after that, I felt in charge of it but it’s one of those conditions that gets progressively worse and it started to destroy my confidence.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to go running or play football and cricket, and it had a bad effect on my social life as I became anxious, nervous and reclusive.”
Medication had been helping him to cope with the gradual loss of muscle control and last summer Garry felt well enough to go ahead with a routine bladder operation at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
But after surgery, the former Royton and Crompton School pupil was stunned to find he was unable to walk and was suffering from uncontrollable muscle spasms.
“My balance had completely gone — I didn’t know where to put my feet and couldn’t walk unaided,” he recalled.
“We kept trying for a week but I still couldn’t walk without help and it was baffling to everyone.
“Eventually I was transferred to the Floyd Unit at Birch Hill Hospital (Rochdale) as an inpatient. I had been going there for outpatient appointments as part of my treatment for Kennedy’s and was delighted to be getting their specialist care.”
Garry had expected to be back on his feet and walking within a couple of weeks but an assessment determined he was going to need six months of painstaking rehabilitation.
“Getting that news hit me for six. I was really down about it,” he explained.
“No-one really knew why my body had reacted so badly to the operation but the physio said my muscles needed to calm down and then we would slowly build towards walking again.
“I spent nearly three months in wheelchairs and once I was out of those, I had to learn how to move my legs again, get up steps and slopes and how to handle walking in different weather conditions.
“It was massively frustrating because we had to do everything in slow, careful stages but I just wanted to get on my feet and walk out of there. I was the youngest patient in the unit and I spent most of the time alone in my room, so it was a mind-numbing experience.”
To help pass the time and improve his mental well-being, Garry was introduced to art therapy midway through his stay on the unit.
He said: “I had absolutely no interest in art and at first they encouraged me to express myself through painting, but it just wasn’t for me.”
At the next session Garry was encouraged to create collages by assembling cut-out images from magazines — and that’s when a more positive picture emerged for him.
“I really took to it and started to get some nice comments about my collages. The more compliments I got, the more confidence I got and the more I made,” he said.
“I was encouraged to keep it up after I was discharged in December and got some great comments when I posted some of the pictures on Facebook.”
The plaudits led to Garry opening a Facebook site dedicated to his collages. He has called the site Room 8 Gallery after the room he occupied at the Floyd Unit.
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