Despite spending all of her adult life dealing with a variety of debilitating illnesses, a local mum of three is using her experiences to encourage people to benefit from being more active.
Heidi Morrison, 41, from Hartlepool, took seriously ill when she was just 17. Living in Tenerife with her parents, Heidi endured an emergency flight back to the UK followed by a long stay at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
Diagnosed with a rare form of cholera, Heidi became progressively ill resulting in Crohns Disease and was told she would likely be in a wheelchair by her thirties.
The lowest point came in 2012 when, weighing just five and half stones, Heidi underwent a major operation to remove a section of her bowel which resulted in a stoma bag. Left feeling permanently weak and tired, Heidi says she accepted her fate and didn’t feel she had any more fight left in her.
Heidi said: “Back in 2012 I nearly died. And the thing is, I just accepted it. I was even making jokes before my operation, I was kind of ready for it.
“But I didn’t die and on my return home I began to get gradually stronger and feel better. But it took a long time.
“A friend of mine recommended joining parkrun. Running! No chance I thought. But I went along, and while I can’t say I exactly ran it, I finished the full 5km and felt terrific.
“And like that – I was hooked. My times got better and I was able to run, properly run, the whole distance. I’m now a run director for the Hartlepool parkrun at Seaton Carew, event director for the junior parkrun at Rossmere Park in Hartlepool and parkrun volunteer outreach ambassador.”
Movement is medicine
Now running and enjoying exercise classes in the gym several times a week, Heidi has volunteered with North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s Active Hospital team and is helping to deliver ‘Movement is Medicine’ sessions with patients who would benefit from increased movement.
Working in partnership with Stockton-On-Tees Borough Council at the Splash leisure centre, Heidi has led group sessions with patients to encourage them to find ways to fit regular movement into their daily lives. Further sessions at Hartlepool’s Brierton leisure centre will be begin in July.
Heidi commented: “We have five or six referred patients at each session and we begin with just a chat. I tell them my story and they tell me theirs. I look to find out about their regular lives, their jobs and lifestyle and find ways they can put a little movement into it.
“People tend to put up the usual barriers at first – not enough time, too busy with work or the kids etc. but really, once you find out what’s going on and what they enjoy, it’s not hard to find the time.
“The main problem is people’s perception of ‘exercise’. They think it’s expensive, takes time, means you have to join a gym or a club or spend money on specialist gear. But going for a walk after dinner with the family is active movement. Doing some gardening, having a kick around with the kids or walking to the shops instead of driving is active movement.”
Volunteering with Movement is Medicine
“I feel like I’ve missed out on a career due to my health problems but volunteering with Park Run and Movement is Medicine means I can turn my negative experiences into positives and encourage other people to be more active.
“I feel one hundred percent better since I became more active and want others to experience the same result. And it’s just fun!”
Currently, anyone referred to the Trust’s physiotherapy or musculoskeletal departments will have an opportunity to discuss their activity levels with a health care professional and will be offered further support, including informal advice, recommending a local gym or service or a referral to a Movement is Medicine support group. The Trust has ambitious plans to roll this approach out to further pathways to ensure they can support the highest number of patients, whilst evaluating the impact.
With the news that parkrun is soon to return, Heidi is looking forward to welcoming back the regular and new runners. She said: “During lockdown I did a 5km run around the dining table! I can’t wait to get run going again and seeing everyone again.”
Outside of her volunteering roles, Heidi is a full time mum to Manal, 19, Aqeel, 11, and Isla, 5.
Our Active Hospital programme is a Public Health England initiative, funded by Sport England and the National Lottery to support increasing the levels of physical activity of patients. One of just four trial projects in the UK, the Trust is taking a three-step approach to supporting people to increase their levels of physical activity.
Trust outpatients manager and Active Hospitals lead Michael Butler explained: “Our first action is to change the conversation with our patients to take a ‘health coaching’ approach. We’ll be asking questions about physical activity, not telling people what to do and putting our patients in control.
“Second, we want to help people to better understand the benefits of physical activity, whether that be as an inpatient to avoid ‘deconditioning’ when recovering, or as an outpatient in relation to longer term health benefits.
“Finally, with our local partners Hartlepool Borough Council, Stockton-on-Tees Borough council and voluntary sector organisations we hope to offer patients a clear and easy route into our physical activity empowerment groups like the Movement is Medicine sessions that Heidi is so active in.”
Paying tribute to Heidi, Michael said: “We are really humbled that Heidi takes the time out to support this work. It would take a hard heart not to listen to one of her motivational talks and not want to go for a walk or try running. She has inspired so many people already and I’m sure this is only the start! We’re truly grateful for her volunteering her time to help others learn from her experiences.”