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A garden of remembrance

Horatio’s Garden at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury was opened last week in honour of my son, Horatio Chapple.

Horatio died before he could become a doctor. He was killed, aged 17, by a polar bear while on an expedition to Svalbard in August 2011. Horatio loved volunteering at the Duke of Cornwall spinal centre in his school holidays and was inspired by the patients to study medicine.

He told me how he learnt about the impact of living with paralysis and how it affects everyday life. He learnt to see beyond disability and how to talk to patients. He learnt how committed and caring the medical and nursing staff are. He also saw the impact of spinal cord injury on families.

He talked a lot to me about the friendships given to him by the patients and he valued this enormously. The patients here really gave him a clear direction and made him certain that he wanted to become a doctor.

Horatio also observed the frustrations of being in the spinal treatment centre and having nowhere to be outside, away from the ward. We talked about this at home and Horatio and my husband David, who is the spinal surgeon for the treatment centre, thought about creating a garden for patients.

Horatio devised a questionnaire and asked all the patients a series of questions about what they wanted from a garden. This questionnaire formed the basis of our patient consultation. He found that patients wanted a beautiful place to escape to – somewhere they could be with friends and relatives. We feel that Horatio’s presence and ideas are very much at the heart of this garden.

My own experience of loss and devastation this year has taught me about basic human needs in difficult times. I have found solace from being outside what ever the weather. Having open space where I could think, talk, and cry has been essential for me. Being outside in a garden can be healing. Looking at a view can give hope. Nature has always had a calming and restoring effect on people. In the modern world we live in, in times of stress, I think that nature can help us. It is common sense really and is supported by a small number of studies. Even seeing a view can improve health outcomes - reducing length of hospital stay, amount of analgesia required and improving vital signs. The benefits have been also shown on staff and friends and family. One study showed it only took 3 minutes of being in a garden to reduce stress indicators.

We hope that Horatio’s Garden will help to support people with spinal injury in their hour of need. Whether this is by offering a quiet place to be outside or to meet new friends or by creating new interests and distractions.

Our team of volunteers will not only be gardening but will be here to be with patients and their families as they use the garden. We are designing a programme of creative events and activities and will be collaborating closely with the community.

Horatio would be absolutely astounded and proud to know what has been achieved in his name. We are all deeply grateful for the incredible contributions from so many people which have made Horatio’s Garden grow.

Dr Olivia Chapple is a GP in Salisbury