Rainham Mum recalls ‘support and love’ of First Step charity

PUBLISHED: 12:10 15 February 2015 | UPDATED: 08:16 16 February 2015

Bradley with sisters Kelly, Melissa and Donika

Bradley with sisters Kelly, Melissa and Donika


Mum Debbie tells how a ‘horrific time’ was eased when lifeline charity First Step was set up in church hall

Bradley with Mum DebbieBradley with Mum Debbie

When doctors told Debbie Wood that her 18-month-old son Bradley suffered from a rare neurogenetic disorder, she felt “like her life was over” and didn’t know where to turn.

Twenty six years after Bradley was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome, Debbie, from Guysfield Drive, Rainham, has shared her story as part of the Recorder’s Fundraise on the First campaign .

Charity First Step, now based in Tangmere Crescent, Hornchurch, brings together families in need of support and services for disabled children – just like the Woods.

Debbie, 50, remembers: “It was totally devastating. We knew from the start that there were problems with my son Bradley. He was missing all of his key milestones like sitting up.”

She sought help from specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

“The doctor told us he would have severe special needs and would need 24-hour care. When you look at this 18-month-old sitting in front of you, you know that’s it for the rest of your life,” she added.

At age two Bradley also developed epilepsy. “It was a horrific time,” she said.

In a bid to help other people through the same challenges, Debbie reached out to her friend Gill Hare, and together with six other families they started First Step meetings in Upminster Methodist Church, in Hall Lane.

“I was there on the first day and there were a few mums that got together with people that were all in the same boat. First Step was amazingly supportive and caring – I met lots of different people who are still my best friends,” she said.

Bradley benefited from playing with toys and learned valuable hand-eye co-ordination and interaction skills at First Step whilst Debbie and her husband Tony relied on the family support groups which offer advice and respite to carers.

“Young mums who go to these help centres for disabled families for the first time think their life’s over, your life completely changes. You focus on the disabled person and it can break up families – people split up but we’re still together. So First Step was vital, crucial,” she said.

The charity has now expanded to offer support, play sessions, and activities for more than 100 families like Bradley’s and was able to take up residence in a new £1.1m centre in Hornchurch thanks to the generous donations of Recorder readers in 2004.

With Bradley aged 28 and living in full-time care nearby, mother-of-four Debbie remains passionately committed to fundraising and volunteering in support of the lifeline services First Step provides.

Debbie says families looking after disabled children should: “Go there for support and love – not just for your child but for you as well. I can’t praise it enough for what they did for us as a family, wouldn’t be without it – I’m really grateful.”

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