Today, Suzanne Tugwell owns The College Practice on Highgate Road, her passion for treating and support the injured, pregnant, or those just needing physical a tune-up, comes from a deep level of personal experience. When she was a teenager, she suffered a near fatal accident that was to set her life on an amazing path.
When I was 14 I had a motorbike accident. I was in hospital for six months and very lucky to survive. They put me into an induced coma on a ventilator that damaged my larynx and trachea. A series of operations didn’t work and I ended up having to have a tracheotomy. I had to learn to breathe again, from my stomach, and to speak via a box.
I went back to hospital for operations for another 15 years. Having missed a lot of school, I also had to work out what I wanted to do with my life. The hospital regularly invited me to meet with people who had just been given tracheotomies to give them support and advice. That really inspired me. I’d speak with medical students too. They always told me I was an interesting and rare case (the first person they’d seen survive a fat embolism from a fractured femur, to be exact) so I was carving out a role, even though I didn’t know it.
I had to build strength, but more importantly confidence. For months we didn’t know if I was going to be able to walk again. Having gone about in a wheelchair, even standing up was an effort. All my muscles had wasted, but a family friend had just trained for the first London Marathon and she introduced me to some of her exercises. I lacked the confidence to go to a gym or a class, but slowly with her, my body was getting stronger to the point where I was running and cycling again.
My motivation became to learn how to help other people from my own experience. I could certainly tell them all about being able to accept living in a body where certain parts might not work very well, but that there are nevertheless ways to build strength. If it wasn’t for the people I befriended, there wasn’t much help at the time. I felt something was lacking from my own rehabilitation experience and osteopathy seemed to offer that holistic interest in what happens beyond the injury.
So osteopathy, rather than physiotherapy, became my path. Physio is known for rehabilitation, exercise and encouraging patients to be self-sufficient. Individuals have to be prescribed to go for treatment on a specific ailment. The attraction of osteopathy, to me, was having the ability to work with the whole body. To help people realign. Both disciplines are very hands on and there’s a big overlap, but our bodies need ongoing care to keep everything working, people forget the advice, and osteopathy is here as a reminder.
Working with people physically, it’s all quality of life. People can come in with a sprained ankle and it’s the end of the world. Or they might have to face an operation and just really need some advice. Either way, I like that fact that I can help them, face to face.
I love meeting so many other people who make a living doing something they have a passion for. This area is full of them. I get a window into so many walks of life while giving people their treatment. I’ve been part of this community since living in Camden Square in the 80s and squatting in the property behind my current practice in the 1991 recession. I’ve watched families grow, and am really proud of the collective of practitioners we’ve built up here. It all started with that accident.