Successful woman left speechless after brain surgery says climate saving app changed her life

·8-min read

A successful professional whose life was devastated by a brain tumour that left her unable to speak or open one eye can now make conversation and has found a lifelong friend – thanks to a climate saving app.

When essential surgery to remove a benign tumour from the frontal temporal lobe of her brain in March 2019 left Sue Saini, 43, unable to speak or open her right eye, her world was turned upside down.

Now a part time charity volunteer, Sue’s confidence was destroyed until, always an environmental champion, in December 2020 she joined zero food waste app Olio and made friends – as well as helping to save the planet and learning to converse again.

Sue joined zero food waste app in December 2020 to improve her speech (Collect/PA Real Life).
Sue joined zero food waste app in December 2020 to improve her speech (Collect/PA Real Life).

Single Sue, of Bradford, West Yorkshire, who as an Olio food waste hero collects unwanted food from supermarkets and redistributes it to fellow app users who collect it from her, said: “I joined to improve my speech and mental health, as it would mean meeting people and talking to them.

“Not only have I done that, but I’ve also made friends and reconnected with my community during lockdown.”

Sue was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour in March 2019, following a seizure the previous August.

A gruelling operation followed in March at Leeds General Infirmary, which – because of where the tumour was – left her unable to speak or see out of her right eye. Her sight returned eight months later in November 2019.

She was also left with a functional neurological disorder which, according to FND Hope, the UK charity for the condition, is a problem with the nervous system and how the brain and body send and receive signals.

In Sue’s case, her brain “shuts down,” which can cause seizures, paralysis on one side of her body, speech problems and severe pain when she becomes overly stressed.

“Two weeks before my birthday in March 2019 I had the intensive operation,” said Sue.

“I stayed in hospital for two weeks and was released on my birthday in March, but four hours later I collapsed with a brain infection and was admitted to the Bradford Royal Infirmary.

“It was extremely hard to go through. It was a tough time, but my NHS care was wonderful.”

Sue collects unwanted food from Tesco to give to her community (Collect/PA Real Life).
Sue collects unwanted food from Tesco to give to her community (Collect/PA Real Life).

Recovering in April 2019, Sue returned home, but the surgery had left her eyesight and speech greatly impacted.

“My speech completely went,” she said.

“I couldn’t get my words out, and I couldn’t open my right eye for the first eight months. I had a year to recover, but I was still struggling.”

  • Functional neurological disorder is a problem with the nervous system and how the brain and body send and receive signals.

  • Symptoms can appear suddenly, they include paralysis, visual changes, speech problems, seizures, sensory changes and chronic pain.

She added: “By March 2020 I was still struggling to speak. So, when lockdown hit that month I didn’t know what to do. I’d already been isolating for a whole year, I couldn’t face more time on my own.”

In December 2020, Sue decided to join zero food waste app Olio and become a food waste hero, collecting unwanted food from local supermarkets to redistribute to the community.

“I’m a big believer in saving food and trying to create a greener planet,” she explained.

She added: “I don’t like waste, so when I came across Olio, I decided to sign up and become a food waste hero.

“I wanted to practice speaking and see more people, too, and from the moment I started opening my door to the community it changed everything.”

Creating a Covid safe collection system after her Tesco pick-ups on Friday and Saturday, Sue, a former events manager, opened her door to 146 people, who took food from her.

Sue’s life was turned upside down when her surgery in March 2019 leaving her unable to see out of her right eye and unable to speak (Collect/PA Real Life).
Sue’s life was turned upside down when her surgery in March 2019 leaving her unable to see out of her right eye and unable to speak (Collect/PA Real Life).

She also made friends – forging a special bond with maths teacher Matthew Emmott, 39, who lives nearby with his partner Alinka Viszmeg, 39, and their two sons Ben, three, and Henry, seven months.

She said: “I have around 146 regulars who collect food from me now.

“It was daunting at first, as my stutter was very bad and I couldn’t get my words out properly.”

She added: “But, over the next few months, it started to improve. Just speaking with everybody and working in the community helped so much.

“By this summer I’d gone from barely being able to speak to now speaking confidently. I still have a slight stutter, especially when I’m stressed or taking on too much – but people don’t notice it anymore.

“And making friends like Matt has made a huge difference. We WhatsApp every now and then and he sends me pictures of the kids and shares funny stories.”

She added: “But I never give anyone preferential treatment, or discuss collections outside of the Olio app.

“A bat got stuck in his house the other day and he sent me a video! It’s really lovely.”

Sue and Matt – who has saved his family £12,311 since joining the app in 2015 – became friends after he collected food from her in December 2020, just a few weeks before Christmas.

Sue and Matthew became friends through zero food waste app Olio (Collect/PA Real Life).
Sue and Matthew became friends through zero food waste app Olio (Collect/PA Real Life).

Sue, who has saved 4.4 million litres of water wastage since joining Olio, said: “Matt was so kind and after a few collections we started chatting by the doorstep – obviously respecting Covid regulations.

“We started messaging and became friends. He’s always checking in on me and asking how I’m doing. It’s a really lovely friendship and it’s helped to build my confidence.

“I still struggle with neurological issues and collapsed the other day, as I had too much on. I have to take care of myself to stop that from happening.”

She added: “My Olio community and Matt are so helpful. He always looks out for me and makes sure I’m ok.

“Thanks to Olio, I’ve got to know my neighbours better, as they always keep a look out for collectors for me.”

Dedicated to ending food waste, Olio have even given Sue an extra fridge and freezer to store her collections in and never bins any food, instead taking leftovers to the local homeless shelter.

Sue had surgery in March 2019 after doctors found she had a benign brain tumour (Collect/PA Real Life).
Sue had surgery in March 2019 after doctors found she had a benign brain tumour (Collect/PA Real Life).

“I’ve got an extra fridge and freezer to keep everything in,” she laughed.

“I keep boxes in my living room and have name tags on each one for my regulars. I fill the boxes as they request the food.

“I’m very fair and no one is given preferential treatment.”

She added: “I set up a table by my doorstep. People come to collect and I hand the box over. But if food doesn’t get collected, I don’t bin any.

“I give some away to my elderly neighbours who don’t have access to the app, and anything unwanted goes to local soup kitchens.

“I’m so mindful with the food waste. I don’t take much for myself, as I live very simply, but I’m dedicated to helping others and love making a difference.”

Matthew has saved £12,311 by using food saving app Olio(Collect/PA Real Life).
Matthew has saved £12,311 by using food saving app Olio(Collect/PA Real Life).

Matthew, who loves the sense of community created by joining the Olio app, says it helped him to make friends when he moved to Bradford from Brent Cross in London in 2020.

“I make all my friends on Olio,” he said.

“I have a whole WhatsApp group of people I met through it in London. I’ve been using it since it first started in 2015.”

He added: “Before my youngest son, Henry, was born this year, I would live off free food from Olio for weeks.

“When I moved to Bradford with my partner and kids last summer, I was very open to meeting new people, I found Olio the perfect way to make friends in my community and that’s how I met Sue.

“She’s really an amazing woman. Her speech has improved so much and she’s always looking out for everyone.”

Matthew collects free food from Olio (Collect/PA Real Life).
Matthew collects free food from Olio (Collect/PA Real Life).

He added: “I’ve saved my family £12,311 since I started using the app, but I don’t do it just for the savings, it’s really about connecting with the community and saving food waste.

“Everyone who uses Olio is like minded and it’s really special. Meeting people like Sue is what it’s all about. It’s a way of connecting with your community and making friends. It brings everyone together.”

MUST PAR: www.olioex.com

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