Technology Advancing Patient Care
Celebrating interdisciplinary collaboration, support and achievement at the 2019 Allied Health Forum.
The Allied Health Forum provides an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the research activities of Allied Heath staff in Sydney Local Health District.
This year, attendees were privy to a broad range of informative and exciting presentations bound by the common theme of Technology Advancing Patient Care. However, it was the keynote address by 23-year-old Christopher Hills and his father Garry Hills called ‘The Sky is the Limit’ that was the stand-out presentation.
“With today’s technology, it is not my body that limits me. It’s my imagination,” Christopher said from his wheelchair with his father translating.
In order to explain the full impact of how advancing technology has changed their lives for the better, Christopher and Garry told their story from the beginning.
“During birth, Christopher experienced 17minutes of oxygen starvation in the womb. He was born via emergency caesarean, showing no life signs,” Garry said.
Christopher required resuscitation and spent the first few weeks of his life in Neonatal Intensive Care.
“As his mother and I visited him every day we tried to figure out what had happened and what this would mean moving forward.”
Christopher was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy, a movement disorder caused by damage to the developing brain and characterised by abnormal, involuntary movement.
“It soon became very clear to us that Christopher would never walk, never have any use of his hands, and speak with great difficulty, making it almost impossible to understand him,” Garry said.
When Christopher turned 7, Garry left his job and took on took on the role of full-time carer for Christopher. He chose to home-school Christopher himself.
“It became very clear early on that Christopher was smart, funny and cheeky… and he still is.”
Fast forward to early 2019 and at age 23 Christopher is living with both athetoid cerebral palsy and type 1 diabetes. He is restricted to a wheelchair, his speech is limited and he has almost no use of his arms. However, Christopher is also a successful video editor andruns his own video production business.
“My son now has friends and colleagues all around the world. He has rewarding and challenging work which he loves and gets paid for. He now has the ability to be himself,” Garry said.
So how does he do it? Christopher has a spec switch connected to the headrest of his wheelchair which is connected to another device that connects to his iPhone, mounted to his arm rest. Using Switch Control, which is part of the extensive accessibility preferences on Apple devices, it scans the elements on the screen of his device and when the element he wants to select is highlighted, he presses the spec switch with his head.
This enables Christopher to type emails, edit videos and do everything else available to users.
“And he can generally do it even faster than me,” Garry said.
Technology also enabled Christopher to share his skills with the world. Back in 2012 when he first began studying information technology online at TAFE, rather than have his dad talk for him over the phone to lecturers, he wanted to talk directly to them.
Motivated by his love of video production and with his dad as camera operator, Christopher directed shots of himself in his room explaining how he accessed his studies.
“Using captions, I was able to tell my story,” Christopher said.
“But I will admit, part of the reason I wanted to make this video was because it was an excuse to play with Final Cut Pro which I had recently started using!”
The video was very well-received by his lecturers. Christopher then shared it online, on a public message thread. Overnight, the video received 50,000 views. Christopher’s story started appearing in online tech publications such as Wired magazine which headlined his story “When you share your world, the world shares you.”
Christopher started receiving messages from across the world and job offers for video editing.
“I had no idea that what I was doing could capture so many people’s attention,” he said.
“I was just sharing my story.”
Christopher also said the experience made him realises two things: He had something valuable to share with the world and the technology at his disposal was infinitely more powerful than he thought.
“I took this (public response) as a challenge, that I must reach my full potential.”
Christopher went on to become Apple-Certified in Final Cut Pro and to launch his video production business. He even consulted with an astrophysicist and together they wrote a book on mastering switch control for iOS.
Just a few months ago, with the aid of technology there was another defining moment in Christopher’s story as he achieved a huge personal goal.
“I can announce that Christopher has moved out, into his own place,” Garry said as Christopher cheered from his wheelchair.
“I have mixed feelings about it and I certainly didn’t see it coming.”
Utilising platform switching technology and the Apple home kit, Christopher switches between different devices in his home, where he previously had to require assistance to do so. This means he can now control devices such as televisions, lights, heaters and even open doors.
“We don’t know what the future holds, we don’t know what is coming with robotics and artificial intelligence and all sorts of medical technology…but what I can say is if this is as good as it gets, I now know my son will be able to live a fulfilling life,” Garry said.
Christopher concluded the presentation with one final message which he communicated via a short video he starred in, directed, edited and even filmed himself with a drone:
“I am more powerful than you think.”