“My hemiplegia makes me who I am”

Thomas Roberts tell us more…

30-year-old Thomas Roberts, lives in London with his wife Siena. He’s had hemiplegia since birth, which makes the right-hand side of his body weaker that the left. He also has dysarthria which affects his speech. Thomas currently works at Sky Sports, and here he tells us more about how hard he’s worked throughout his life to make sure the challenges he has faced don’t stand in his way and how hemiplegia makes him who he is.

If you care for a young person who’d like to share their story about living with hemiplegia and overcoming the challenges they face with others then please get in touch with michele.cefai@contact.org.uk

Thomas Roberts on a sailing boat, wearing back to front baseball cap
Thomas and his wife Siena

What challenges, if any, does hemiplegia bring?

The main challenge I’ve faced has been the dysarthria (slowness and slurring of speech). Because my speech is slightly slurred, so sometimes people have difficulty understanding me.  The fact that people used to find it difficult to understand me upset me enormously in my younger years. However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve built up an encyclopaedia of ways of saying things. I’ve lost any inhibitions I once had about my speech and am almost proud of my dysarthria. In fact, I’ve been described as one of the most confident public speakers at my place of work and my job means I give presentations to large audiences all over the country. I was even asked if I wanted to do a voiceover for an advert!

Even though I have these challenges, I have never let them define me or affect my day-to-day living and am now living a normal and active life. I believe my difficulties make me who I am, and I would not be me if I did not have them. From a young age I was taught that I can do anything that I set my mind to – and this is something I fully subscribe to today!

“Everything will be OK in the end, because it always is. And if it’s not OK, then it’s not the end!”

How have you overcome the challenges you’ve faced?

Determination, hard work and perseverance – and with help from those all around me, particularly my family. For example, when I was little, I used to walk with a limp and on the tips of my toes. My parents used to stretch my calf muscle every day for 20 minutes, which I used to resist. But today I have no problems at all walking, and this is due to the hard work that was put in by my mum and dad when I was young.

Similarly, my hand was permanently bunched into a fist, however, my parents brushed it with a hairbrush, 100 times a day until my hand had fully stretched out. It is now fully stretched and even though I am not able to use it 100% effectively, I would describe it as 95% normal.

Due to my hemiplegia, I was scared of swimming. While on holiday my godfather gave me the belief that if he thought I could do it then perhaps I could too. I duly jumped in and swam a length which for a young boy with reduced motor control was a huge achievement. I am now an avid swimmer, and swim wherever and whenever I can.

There are countless other examples of friends, and family helping me and guiding me through life. I’ve always lived by the rule my parents taught me: that “everything will be OK in the end, because it always is. And if it’s not OK, then it’s not the end”.

What therapies do you/have you had?

I’ve had a lot of therapy over the years. This includes wearing a splint on my right leg when I was small, a submandibular gland relocation to address excessive drooling, and physical therapy to build my strength. The thing I’m most proud of is my speech. I have little or no control over my tongue, and I just always mimicked the noises that those around me made – and that’s how I learnt to speak the way I speak now.

When did you first become aware that you had hemiplegia?

I don’t remember ever having an outright discussion with my parents about my disabilities. The first time I probably ever became aware that I may be slightly different was at primary school, as due to my dysarthria as I used to dribble a lot. I also found secondary school and the dating scene challenging because of my indistinct speech. However, now I am married to a beautiful woman who loves me for who I am and sees past my challenges. I count myself incredibly lucky and wouldn’t substitute anything about my life.

Did you go to college /university?

I originally went to the University of Falmouth, but found it difficult to make friends. I effectively did not leave my room for a year, stopped eating and became unwell. I took a year out and then transferred to the University of Winchester. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I met my best friend there, and we are best friends to this day. I studied Digital Media Design which I believe helped me get my job at Sky Sports. During my time there, I learnt how to become more relaxed in my own skin, as well as understanding that for the most part, everyone was in the same boat.

Tell us about your job and how you got into it?

I now work for Sky Creative Agency in their Sports department. I’m a promo creative, so I creative commercials that go on air and are shown to millions of people around the world on multiple platforms. It’s by far and away the best job I’ve ever had – made better by the amazing people I work with.

I came to work for Sky through an initiative they were running to get diverse people working in the media. I worked incredibly hard and at the end of the initiative was offered a job. I’m incredibly lucky working in the media, but also in sport, meaning that I’m doing my dream job! When you’re working in an occupation you’d happily do for free, it doesn’t feel like work; it feels more like a hobby. The experiences I’m having at Sky are a direct line from the work I did at university and the work I did on myself whilst at Winchester. I’m incredibly proud of myself for this reason. I’ve joined the work football team and participated in the Sky Golf Day. I’m regularly invited out to work socials and have never been this confident and happy in my entire life.

“My hemiplegia makes me who I am. I would not be me if I did not have it”

Has hemiplegia ever held you back?

My hemiplegia makes me who I am. I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t have it. Yes, I have more challenges than others, but everyone has struggles – it’s just that mine are maybe more noticeable. I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved in my life, no one can take that away from me.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a young person reading this what would you say?

The most important piece of advice I’d give to any young person reading this would be to be yourself and be comfortable in your own skin. Hemiplegia may seem like it will define you for the rest of your life, but it won’t.

Life will get easier. As you grow up, you’ll understand that everyone has struggles. Life is difficult to navigate for all, so keep your head up, shoulders back, and tell yourself, “things will be OK in the end, and if they’re not OK, it’s not the end.”