A holistic way to treat injury
A seriously ill man in a wheelchair is back on his feet, with help from the Bowen technique, writes ISABEL CONWAYIn Antwerp
WHEN BREDA McQuaid first met Danny Spiessens he had paralysis from the chest down. He had neither bladder nor bowel control, had lost almost half his body weight in a matter of weeks and was skeletal thin. “He looked desperately unwell,” she says of the previously healthy successful Belgian businessman who owns a chain of hair salons around the Flemish city of Antwerp.
In the summer of 2009 Danny Spiessens and his wife Anniek were on a beach holiday in Tuscany when he developed flu-like symptoms. “I got that shivery feeling, I was aching and thought it was flu. But on the third night everything felt blocked and I was shutting down, I could no longer move my legs or feel any sensation in them, it was absolutely terrifying.”
Overnight Spiessens, now 49, was crippled with an acute form of transverse myelitis, an infection of the spinal cord. How he caught the infection is a mystery; he believes it could have been from swallowing infected water while swimming in a rock pool in Mexico earlier that year, or through eating contaminated shellfish on holiday, or from an old back injury.
He was taken to hospital in the Italian city of Pisa where he suffered septic shock – total body failure – several times. Critically ill in those early days, it was many weeks before he could be taken back to Belgium. Eventually he returned, to a rehabilitation centre in Antwerp where he was told he could expect to remain in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“I was always so healthy and active, skiing, horse riding, doing sports. I felt my life was stolen away from me. But I am by nature a very positive person and I was determined to get better,” he recalls.
Just after his return Spiessens’s wife, a former intensive care nurse, told a regular client, while working in one of their hair salons, about her husband’s illness. Recently qualified as a Bowen technique practitioner, Breda McQuaid, from Moybridge in Co Monaghan, believed she might be able to help. She had already treated some family members including her 85-year-old father, her 80-year-old mother and friends for a variety of ailments with great success during her training.
Spiessens was to be one of her first real clients and to date his recovery is the most extraordinary she has encountered.
“I had never heard of the Bowen technique until Breda started treating me but I was willing to try anything to try to walk again,” says Spiessens. “But I could feel a difference from the moment she started treating me. Actually I was calling it Breda’s ‘hocus-pocus’ but each time she treated me I could feel the improvement. It was truly astonishing how my legs were strengthening and my general health was improving steadily.”
Breda McQuaid (46), a mother of four who has lived with her Irish husband in Belgium for the past 14 years, is a former general nurse and trained in London as an accident and emergency nurse practitioner.