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Vicky Eley - Speech and Language Therapist, Critical Care

Vicky Eley is a Speech and Language Therapist working in the rehabilitation team on critical care, where her role includes supporting patients to recover from impairments of communication and

swallowing following placement of breathing tubes, brain injury and trauma.  She also works as part of the wider multidisciplinary team to help patients to wean from a ventilator and get their breathing tubes removed. Many of her patients then continue their rehabilitation on the Acute Rehabilitation Trauma Unit (ARTU).  Here Vicky explains more about her role and why she does it.

“Critical care can be an overwhelming and frightening environment for people. By being part of

their early rehabilitation and focusing on goals specific to them as a person we give them back control and enable them to get that one step closer to home. This often leads to shorter hospital stays and happier patients and their families, which is really rewarding to see.

“One of my special interests includes Fibreoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) which

involves placing a small flexible camera through the nostril and into the throat to evaluate the swallow and upper airway. This allows me to assess whether people are silently aspirating (food or fluid going into the airway with no cough response). This can be very common after having a breathing tube placed with as many as 40 per cent  of patient’s experiencing this.

“The best thing about my job is giving a patient back their voice! When people have a breathing tube they lose their ability to speak as air no longer flows past the vocal cords. Part of my job is to trial them with ‘speaking valves’ which redirect airflow up to the vocal cords and restore their voice. Seeing the look on a person’s face when they realise then can speak again is the favourite thing about my job. The least favourite part of my job is the admin. This is a necessary evil of all therapists’ life.

“I worked with one young chap for around four months following his spinal cord injury. One of his biggest goals was to be able to eat a slice of cheesecake. At first, he was unable to eat and drink without this going into his lungs. After months of therapy his swallow function improved, and he succeeded in achieving this goal. We had a cheesecake party on the ward to celebrate!”