Trudie’s Story

Trudie using the Motomed machine They say that once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. Such was not the case for Trudie Helmke, resident on 11 Beech River. While cycling in Pondicherry, India nearly 20 years ago, she found that she was constantly tipping over. And what would once have been considered a simple trek In Annapura, became overwhelmingly exhausting for her.

And so began a two-year marathon of assessments, tests and tentative diagnoses for the vibrant, attractive 54-year-old. The final diagnosis was Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM); a rare disease that causes progressive muscle weakness in the legs and arms.

Trudie fought to maintain her independence as long as possible, going from a cane, to a walker to a scooter and moving to an apartment with an elevator. One of the greatest dangers for a person living with IBM is the risk of falling and breaking bones. Trudie had been told by her neurologist to expect frequent falls and was coached on how to protect herself but still suffered broken toes and ankles. The last time she broke her ankle she lost her ability to stand independently.

Fortunately, Trudie listened to her Social Worker when she recommended applying to Northwood before she actually needed to make the move. As a result, there was an opening for her within weeks of the time when she could no longer live independently.

Although IBM is a slowly progressing disease, Trudie has to work hard to maintain the use of her hands and fingers and to keep her upper body, arms and legs strong so that she can transfer herself to and from her chair. Doing without physical therapy isn’t an option for Trudie. She’s determined to maintain quality of life. She uses putty to exercise her fingers and maintain dexterity. She also tries to get at least two physiotherapy sessions a week for her upper body, arms and legs but that’s not always possible to schedule. Losing even one week of physio can cause her a serious setback and compromise her mobility and independence. She’s really excited about the new Motomed machines that were recently purchased through Appetite for Life. She’ll be able to book time on the machine and use it independently in conjunction with physio appointments.

Trudie smiles as she shares a story about how Northwood staff contacted her son to arrange a meeting with him to discuss how she is doing as a Northwood resident. “He just said, ‘I don’t think we need a meeting. I think things are going really great with my mother’.”

Submitted by Susan MacLean, Northwood Foundation