Winslow man’s pioneering work with Stephen Hawking and Stoke Mandeville’s Ludwig Guttmann

Roger Jefcoate
Roger Jefcoate

Roger Jefcoate has transformed the lives of disabled people since a chance meeting with Ludwig Guttmann in the 1960s.

But the 75-year-old, who lives in Winslow with wife Jean, is still making a difference and has recently added a further string to his bow.

Mr Jefcoate, along with Stephen Hawking and Princess Michael of Kent, is now a patron for The Sequal Trust.

Before computers, he actually fitted Mr Hawking with a remote control device so he could control the lights and heating in his house.

And his electronic life support ventilator – the world’s first – is still widely used by the NHS.

“The device has changed thousands of lives,” said Mr Jefcoate, who grew up in Amersham. “It was fantastic for patients who, naturally, wanted to be at home.

“I couldn’t have done any of it without Jean though – she’s been right behind me. She gave up a great deal and I will not forget that.”

It all started at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, when Mr Jefcoate, still in his teens, was showcasing a new device to hospitals around the UK.

Paralympics founder Guttmann was so impressed that he asked him to develop a remote control device for severely disabled people. And that Possum System is still widely used today by the NHS.

Speaking about Guttmann, Mr Jefcoate said: “He was tough, he wanted action and he pushed us hard but he was very fair and very proud of us.

“When you’re doing something which no-one else was doing, everyone wants to see it. It was a very exciting time.”

One of his most memorable patients was 23-year-old Hilary Pole, who was struck down by debilitating disease, Myasthenia gravis, in 1961. She could not walk or talk, and could barely breathe or eat.

But he eased Hilary’s breathing, helped her communicate with a toe bell, and arranged a police escort so she could enjoy some time at home.

Mr Jefcoate said: “She wrote me some beautiful poetry and when we took her home, she used the bell to say: ‘Wonderful and impossible’.”

The Sequal Trust has evolved from The Possum Users Association, which Mr Jefcoate helped launch in 1969.

Sequal’s charity manager, Liz Downes, said: “We lost touch, but Roger is very well known in the charity world. We got back in touch and we were delighted he has agreed to be a patron.”