The life-changing work of UC’s Rose Centre

03 August 2018

The University of Canterbury’s Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research is a unique facility that integrates patient care, clinical research and student education – and it’s proving to be life-changing for patients with swallowing difficulties.

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    Rob Elvish travelled from Australia to receive intensive therapy at the UC Rose Centre and says it has changed his world. Pictured (left to right): Rose Centre Clinical Director Lucy Greig, patient Rob Elvish, Rose Centre Director Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee and Yvonne Elvish.

The University of Canterbury’s Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research Te Puna Whakaora Rehu Ohotata is a unique facility that integrates patient care, clinical research and student education – and it’s proving to be life-changing for patients with swallowing difficulties.

UC Professor of Communication Disorders Maggie-Lee Huckabee, who was recently selected as  a finalist for a Women of Influence award in the Innovation & Science category, was the driving force behind the establishment of the Rose Centre in 2014, which was made possible thanks to the generosity of Mrs Shirley Rose. Mrs Rose spent many years tending to the needs of her husband, who was affected by stroke. Subsequently, she left a gift to UC to support stroke rehabilitation.

Based at St George’s Medical Centre in Christchurch, the Rose Centre helps individuals with swallowing and communication disorders recover function or improve sufficiently to gain the best possible quality of life.

“We specialise in evaluation and intensive rehabilitation clinics, and we operate in a way that ensures there is a very tight link between the development of research and innovation and patient care,” says Professor Huckabee, a world leader in cough-reflex research.

“Our patients are central to guiding the research that we do. While we help them recover function, they help us design innovative new approaches, strategies and technologies for use with future patients.”

The Rose Centre is also a prime student training and research facility, attracting both local and international students.

“Right now we have doctoral students from Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland, England and Ireland. All of our PhD students have their own research programmes and are also required to do clinical work,” Professor Huckabee says.

“The motivation for most of us doing this work is giving a patient, who hasn’t been able to eat or drink for a long time, a cup of tea or bite of cheesecake or even Christmas dinner with their family. That’s enormous for their quality of life. Food is at the centre of a lot of social activity, so it’s just magical when that happens – and it happens a lot if you do intensive treatment.”

A unique research centre improving lives

Rose Centre Deputy Director Dr Phoebe Macrae says the Rose Centre is the only facility of its kind in New Zealand, possibly the world.

“As far as I know, we are the only research centre that pairs clinic and research in such an integrative way. There are other swallowing research centres that do magnificent research, but they don’t treat patients or they don’t treat patients as intensively as we do.”

Patients travel from around the world to access treatment at the Rose Centre. Around 60 percent of the Rose Centre’s patients come from the Canterbury region, 20 percent from other parts of the country and 20 percent from overseas.

“We’ve had patients come to us from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, because they can’t get the treatment we offer anywhere else,” Dr Macrae says. 

One man’s journey

Australian man Rob Elvish is one of those patients. Along with his support team – wife Yvonne and four friends – the 61-year-old travelled to Christchurch from Perth for treatment at the Rose Centre in August 2017.

In 2016 Rob had been experiencing difficulty swallowing and was hospitalised with aspiration pneumonia, a lung infection caused when food or liquid is breathed into the lungs. Further tests identified that his swallowing difficulty was caused by a brain tumour. A subsequent surgery removed 99 percent of the mass but left Rob with continued swallowing problems, requiring him to be fed through a tube. 

“My wife started researching how I could eat again, because in Perth the speech pathologist was very good, but we got to a certain point where we couldn’t go any further. They just didn’t have the facilities back home,” Rob says.

It was a big upheaval for the couple come to Christchurch for treatment, but it was worth it. When Rob arrived at the Rose Centre, he was still aspirating on his own saliva.

“At that point, except for brushing my teeth, I never had water in my mouth. For close to 18 months I had been nil by mouth,” Rob says.

The couple say the intensive therapy at the Rose Centre changed their world and helped them restart their lives back in Perth.

“Now I go once a fortnight with a couple of mates for coffee at a café,” Rob says. “To have a bit of normality is great because when you’re sick it takes a fair bit away – what you had planned and wanted to do. I don’t know how my state of mind would have been if we didn’t have this to concentrate on.”

Rob and Yvonne returned to the Rose Centre in early 2018 for some further treatment. Rob is now eating a variety of soft foods and is looking forward to returning to unlimited food and drink without needing a feeding tube.

“You feel quite isolated when you’re either a person or with a person who can’t eat or drink anything,” Yvonne says. “So just to have that connection with people who get it is so important. This place has been such a blessing.”

For further information please contact:

Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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