Appeal to raise £20,000 for ‘must-have’ equipment for intensive care patients at hospital in Northamptonshire

ICU Sister Caroline Simcoe shows David Carson a Tobi Eyegaze machine

ICU Sister Caroline Simcoe shows David Carson a Tobi Eyegaze machine

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An appeal has been launched to raise £20,000 to buy new equipment which could be a lifeline for patients in intensive care.

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Kettering General Hospital is hoping to buy new technology that allows severely impaired patients to type, text and email just by using movements of their eyes.

The Tobi Eyegaze machine which Kettering General Hospital's ICU wants to buy

The Tobi Eyegaze machine which Kettering General Hospital's ICU wants to buy

At the moment some ICU patients can feel ‘imprisoned’ in their own bodies if they have suffered an illness or injury that leaves them unable to speak, or even write, to communicate with their family and hospital staff.

Staff in the ICU discovered that there is an assistive communication device – similar to that used by scientist Stephen Hawking – which allows patients to communicate by using their eyes as a virtual ‘computer mouse’ to type messages.

The devices – called Tobi Eyegaze from Smartbox Assistive Technologies Ltd – cost £3,000 to £5,000 each and look like a computer tablet, but are not available as standard NHS equipment.

So Senior ICU Sister Caroline Simcoe and her colleagues are launching a £20,000 public appeal called ‘Intensive Voices’ to raise money for the devices via a series of public events including an entertainment evening, quiz night and charity ball.

Father-of-two David Carson, 64, from Corby, spent more than a month in Kettering’s ICU after suffering septic shock and multi-organ failure in April 2013.

As a result he lost both legs, six fingertips and his sense of touch.

He also had a tracheostomy and couldn’t speak, although he has since recovered his voice.

Mr Carson, who is an active supporter of the Sepsis Trust and promotes awareness of the condition, said: “This is a must-have piece of equipment.

“In my own experience coming round after being in a coma and finding that you can’t move and are unable to speak is a frightening experience.

“I was trapped inside a body that I didn’t recognise and found it so difficult to tell those around me how I was feeling.

“I’m sure this device will make a huge difference to patients, staff and family.

“The hospital has had a chance to see the device in action when it was sent here on a trial and I was given an opportunity to use it.

“It’s fantastic.

“You can actually type, or select icons, on a tablet screen using just your eyeballs by focussing your gaze on something – or alternatively blinking to select it.

“You can use switches activated by your chin, lips or even your tongue and there is also a headband which allows you to select and activate a function on the tablet simply by frowning.

“This could be an absolute lifeline for patients who have conditions that would otherwise leave them almost entirely unable to communicate.

“One of the key things I noticed was just how quickly and easily you could ask for help using the device. Just one glance and a computerised voice can tell staff what you want.

“It’s amazing.”

Senior ICU Sister Caroline Simcoe said: “Everyone on ICU thinks that if we can raise money and buy this technology it will provide us with a great opportunity to improve our patients’ experience.

“It will provide them with a voice – where their injury or illness may have robbed them of that.

“It is hard for most people to imagine how distressing it would be to be unable to express even the simplest thoughts and emotions without being able to speak or write something down.

“On ICU we see that every day.

“For example patients who have had tracheostomies, who are ventilated, or have neurological or spinal injuries which can prohibit speech and communication.

“Even with the use of conventional technology and communication techniques their ability to communicate is severely impaired and very slow.

“If we had this new technology it would be entirely different.

“It would create a whole new world of communication to help them through a very difficult time in their lives.

“It would allow them to tell jokes, laugh, text, email, facebook, skype and connect with the internet.

“This would all be possible from their hospital bed, and feelings of isolation could be very much alleviated.”

The ICU team has teamed up with the KGH Charity Fund to organise the fundraising campaign and the first event is a night of song and dance called Artistic Expression at the Grampian Club in Patrick Road, Corby, on Friday (March 4) from 7.30pm.

Included in the event is a choir comprised of ICU staff, former patients and relatives and friends, as well as Mr Carson singing in the choir.

The event includes a full-length show of song and dance followed by a disco by Corby Radio’s Martin Brown and has been supported by Corby Amateur Theatrical Society (CATS), Kettering and District Theatrical Society (THEATS) and Corby’s MASH School of Dancing.

Tickets are available via eticketing at WWW.TICKETSOURCE.CO.UK/KETTERINGGENERALICU or £10 on the door on the night.