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Case study: Mary Peel: I owe my life to research and want to give something back.

Patient Research Ambassadors are our public champions. They help promote health research in their local communities. This voluntary position is supported by our local engagement teams.

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Mary answers our questions about her experience of being a Patient Research Ambassador

Please tell us a little bit about yourself...

I was born without my left arm below my elbow. This has never been a problem to me as I had wonderful parents who always supported and encouraged me in whatever I decided to do. I married and at 20 years old I opened my own business and ran it for 49 and a half years.

During this time I studied and became a college lecturer for 19 years and worked part time for City and Guilds as an External Verifier and became National Advisor for Floristry. I chaired the Floristry Teachers Association and became a Chief Examiner for Society of Floristry, to me one of my greatest achievements!

In 2002, at 45, my son had a severe stroke, at this point I gave up all of my work except the business in order to help get him back on the road to recovery.

I retired five years ago, following a shock diagnosis of Acute Promyelectic Leukaemia.

A shock because I had no symptoms and was diagnosed at an annual health review. Hence the importance of such reviews. I took part in a clinical study which was very successful for me and to which I owe my life.

I was so impressed with the treatment and care received at Sunderland Royal Hospital that I became a volunteer to give back a little for all that I had received. I am also Chair of the Cancer Patient and Carer Group at the hospital.

My life now is all things NHS and I cannot do enough to help.

How did you first hear about Patient Research Ambassadors?

The year after my treatment I was invited to attend an International Clinical Trials Day celebration event at Sunderland Royal Hospital. At the event I met staff and learned much more about clinical studies and how, as a lay person, I could get involved.

I expressed my interest at the event and was invited to a meeting. I was then invited to join the Patient Research Ambassador team, who are great people.

What made you decide to become a Patient Research Ambassador?

I owe my life to research and cannot do enough. I decided to become a Patient Research Ambassador because I am amazed at the possibilities for the future because of clinical research, i.e. eradicating certain illnesses, developing new drugs and treatments for life-threatening diseases.

We are at an amazing point in time with such rapid progress in clinical research. I am fascinated by genome research and cannot learn enough about it, I find it fascinating to say the least!

I have met and listened to amazing presentations by specialists in various fields and have been so impressed and enthused that I wanted to become involved.

Why do you think NHS research is important?

Research is vital to our future. It is the way forward. In order to combat illness, physical disease, mental health and other new illnesses and diseases that arise we must do research.

Research is key to the continuance of an efficient and effective NHS that can meet the needs of healthcare, both now and in the future.

What activities have you been involved with?

I regularly attend events at Sunderland Royal Hospital, helping at promotional stands in hospital foyers. I will soon be presenting on Patient and Public Involvement in Quality Improvement at a nursing conference at Sunderland University.

I also attend the Clinical Research Network North East and North Cumbria Patient Research Ambassador Forum, we meet quarterly and represent several trusts in the region. Through the forum I codesigned the 2019 Be Part of Research campaign for the region, feeding back on a poster design and planning events and locations for the campaign.

What would you say to others who are considering getting involved in research?

Research is OUR future. We can all make a real difference, no matter how small. We don’t have to be super intelligent or able to speak publicly unless we want to but we do need to make others aware of what is possible and needed. By spreading the word then we have played a vital role in creating awareness about research and busting the myths that surround it.