Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Saturday, 18 July 2009 00:05 UK

'My illness inspired me to be a medic'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Nigel Brooke
Nigel is a consultant paediatrician

Dr Nigel Brooke's desire to join the medical profession was one shaped by his own illness.

As a child the 34-year-old consultant spent weeks at a time each year being treated for his cystic fibrosis.

"I saw doctors working long hours, but I saw how rewarding it was," he said.

"I realised that with my interest in science that was probably the way I would like to go.

"I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at the age of three and as a school child I used to spend two weeks at a time in hospital, on average four times a year."

CF is an inherited condition affecting the glands that produce body fluids or secretions.

I think that insight helps me when dealing with parents
Nigel Brooke

In CF, these secretions are stickier and thicker than normal. This hinders the functioning of important organs, such as the lungs and digestive system.

Nigel said he hoped his own experiences of living with a chronic condition had given him an insight into the lives of his patients.

"I think I have an empathy and know how you being ill impacts on the rest of the family," he said.

"And I also know about how kids with chronic illness have to put up with it every day of their lives and how that impacts on them.

"I think that insight helps me when dealing with parents.

"My lungs are not bad now and are relatively healthy, but I did have a lot of infections when I was younger."

Cross-infection dangers

Nigel, now a consultant paediatrician at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, said he had wanted to work in the area of cystic fibrosis, but had found this impossible, because of fears of cross-infection endangering both his health and that of the patient.

"I think I would have liked to have worked with CF patients because if you have the inside knowledge it does make it easier and it is nice to be able to give something back.

A CF lung. Pic caption:Bsip Vem/SPL
Cystic Fibrosis hinders lung function

"It would have been nice to be able to do some research in that area, but it was not possible and looking after sick, very fragile, babies does give me a buzz. To see them survive is amazing."

Nigel was recently awarded the Academic Life Award from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for his remarkable achievements in life.

Rosie Barnes, chief executive of the trust, said Nigel was an inspiration proving that it is possible to not only keep and hold a demanding job with CF, but also to have a full and active life.

"He has inspired others by training to become a doctor whilst dealing with the challenges of daily life with CF.

"Nigel also shows that those with CF can excel at sports, running the Sheffield half marathon in 2007 and raising over £2,000 for charity."

Tough training

Nigel said that the rigours of a medical career had been tough and only made possible by understanding colleagues.

"The training for medicine is quite intense and the hours quite rough and it is obviously quite antisocial and that does impact on your health," he said.

"You get more tired being on call.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) affects more than 8,000 people in the UK and is the commonest inherited disease.

It is the UK's most common life-threatening inherited disease

It's estimated about five babies are born with CF each week in the UK

"But I do the amount of work I can.

"I have very understanding colleagues so if there is a patient I can't see often my colleagues will go and see them for me.

"I can't treat anyone with CF, because of the dangers of cross-infection, but there is always a named consultant looking after them so I am unlikely to come across them.

"The only time I am aware of coming across CF patients is when I am on the ward and then they are in cubicles, but that risk is there."

Nigel also works with a charity called Dream Flight where he annually takes nearly 200 children away to Florida for the trip of a lifetime.

Dr Jim Littlewood, chairman of CF trust and a retired paediatrician, said Nigel is just one of a handful of medics with the condition, as many found the odds stacked against them.

"Having CF does give them empathy, but a medical career is full of problems," he said.

"In the medical, nursing profession or physiotherapy if you have CF you can be a problem to patients coughing up germs and the patients can be a problem to you and you can certainly catch a nasty infection from them."

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