MORPETH and District Soroptimists warmly welcomed Dr Olivia Giles, who travelled from Edinburgh to speak to the club about her charity 500 Miles.
She was a commercial property partner with a Scottish law firm, but in February 2002, at the age of 36, she contracted meningococcal septicaemia. As a result her lower legs and lower arms had to be amputated.
Amazingly, amputating all four limbs stopped the disease spreading through her body and allowed her to survive to begin the painful process of having prosthetics fitted and learning to walk again.
Dr Giles now spends a great deal of her time as a volunteer to create awareness about meningitis and in 2007 she founded a new Scottish charity called 500 Miles.
Its main purpose is the support of amputees and other disabled people in Malawi, Zambia and Zanzibar. The particular focus is the delivery and development of prosthetic and orthotic services.
She explained that prostheses are devices which replace missing body parts and orthoses are supports for body parts which don’t function properly.
In Malawi and Zambia, thousands of men, women and children lose limbs, or the use of them, due to disease, accident or poverty. Many lose their livelihoods, homes or families and some even die.
Dr Giles explained that through the charity’s One Smile giving programme, relatively small amounts of money can change lives. These projects are worthwhile because for a small one-off spend per disabled person, prosthetic and orthotic support and orthopaedic and plastic surgery can have a life-transforming effect.
An operation to correct a club foot on a child living in rural Zambia costs around £100 and the cost of supplying an average prosthesis/orthosis to an adult in Malawi or Zambia is around £60.
This allows individuals to be mobile and therefore to have a normal childhood, get an education, earn a living and participate in community life.
Dr Giles’ courage and strength of character in reclaiming her life are an inspiration to everyone who meets her, as is her determination to spread awareness of the dangers of meningitis and raise funds for her charity.
Due to her incredible fund-raising and awareness work, she was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen at a Women of Influence event. She also won the Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year award in June 2004, the Institute of Fund-raising Scotland Volunteer Fund-raiser of the Year award in November 2004, a Junior Chamber International award for humanitarian services in October 2005 and a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship in November 2005.
During the year, Morpeth Soroptimists members have been fund-raising in anticipation of her visit to the club and President Susan Guillain presented Dr Giles with a cheque for £340.