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Jemma raises awareness for spinal muscular atrophy

On 13th April, Helping Hands customer Jemma Collins will be freefall abseiling from the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London’s Olympic Park. At 262-feet-tall, it’s the UK’s tallest structure with views of up to a 20-mile radius of the capital. But this isn’t the first time Jemma has taken on a breath-taking challenge. Nine years ago, she completed a skydive to mark the one-year-anniversary of her father’s passing and raised just shy of £3,500 for Spinal Muscular Atrophy UK (SMA). This jump marks his 10-year anniversary and she is aiming to exceed the amount she raised in 2010. Read on to learn about her story and why she has chosen to raise awareness for this fantastic charity…

Living with spinal muscular atrophy

Jemma was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of two and has lived with the condition ever since. An extremely rare, neuromuscular condition, it affects movement due to muscle wasting (atrophy). It can affect people in many different ways such as walking, swallowing and in some cases, breathing.

Jemma’s symptoms are progressive and have changed quite dramatically in the past few years. Around four years ago, Jemma took her last steps and now mobilises herself in a motorised wheelchair. Although she lives independently, Jemma does have constant support from a Helping Hands’ live-in carer who assists with personal care, dressing and food preparation.

Spinal muscular atrophy doesn’t affect Jemma’s cognition and she is an extremely successful maths teacher at a local secondary school. Here, she is fully supported by the school, students and her carer, who accompanies her to school to help her to complete classroom tasks.

Jemma is an absolute inspiration and a very determined, brave individual. Her mission is to raise as much awareness as possible for spinal muscular atrophy and continue with the campaign that her late father committed to: the SMA charity.

How Helping Hands have helped Jemma

For nearly 12 years, Helping Hands has supported Jemma to live with spinal muscular atrophy. Emma and Avril, her two rotating live-in carers do just that – they live with Jemma in her house to support her with every day tasks. This could be anything from getting up and dressed in the morning, preparing breakfast or having a bath, to keeping the house clean & tidy, going shopping and helping her to make her favourite meals.

Her carers also accompany her to work and help her with handing out equipment, getting to & from school safely and writing & marking.

Both carers are great companions for Jemma and they will help her do whatever she needs – they’ve even been on holiday with her! As well as supporting Jemma, this has greatly aided Jemma’s mum who would be unable to care for Jemma by herself without the assistance of Helping Hands.

Jemma says: “My carers makes me feel ‘normal’. When I’m with one of my carers and they’re helping me, I don’t really feel like I’ve got a disability…I think the biggest thing is it just making me feel like a normal person.”

Find out more about how Helping Hands have helped Jemma here.

The big jump

Although Jemma faces daily challenges both physically and mentally, nothing stops her from living her life the way she wants to. This positive frame of mind has made her determined to raise as much money and awareness as possible for SMA, particularly since her father was such a strong supporter for this brilliant charity.

On the day of the jump, Jemma is hoping that as many people as possible will come along to support her. She’ll be accompanied by her mum Sharon, and carer Emma, who will be waiting for her on the ground to help her back into her wheelchair.

Luckily, Jemma isn’t afraid of heights and is really looking forward to this momentous endeavour. From nearly 80 metres above the London skyline, she’ll hopefully get a glimpse of famous landmarks such as The Gherkin, Canary Wharf and even Wembley Stadium. Yet the most important aspects of this challenge is the awareness she is raising for people living with spinal muscular atrophy and to continue the memory of her wonderful dad, Roy Collins.

To donate to Jemma’s jump, you can visit her JustGiving page here.

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