The manager of a new travel agents store in Macclesfield has launched a year-long fundraising drive in aid of a support charity which she says saved her mum’s life.
Georgia Furnival, who manages the recently opened Hays Travel in Macclesfield, has nominated Ouch UK as the store’s chosen charity partner for 2019 in gratitude for supporting her mum, Deborah, through a 26-year battle with excruciating cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches are severe attacks of pain in one side of the head, often around the eye. The pain involved is described by sufferers as excruciating and one of the most painful conditions known to humans. Female sufferers often describe each attack as being more painful than childbirth.
The attacks cause a sharp, burning or piercing sensation which generally lasts between 15 minutes and three hours and for one to eight times a day. The cause is unknown and chronic sufferers typically experience just four weeks of pain-free remission in any 12 month period.
Symptoms worsen at peak times of the year, most often in the spring and autumn.
Hays Travel North West, which is the UK’s fastest growing independent travel agency and the main partner of the Sunderland- based Hays Travel, asks each of its stores to generate at least £500 for a chosen charity every year – and then doubles the total of the highest fundraising branch.
Georgia, 26, who lives in Edgeley and who recently returned to the travel industry to be appointed manager of the 36th branch of Hays Travel North West, said she could not think of a more deserving recipient of the funding and credited Ouch UK with saving her mum’s life.
“Supporting Ouch UK was my top priority,” said the former Barlow High School pupil, who has worked in travel for more than 10 years.
“If I can help just one other person with this condition then I would be over the moon. From my mum’s experience, just sharing the problem and having an explanation helps and I want to support Ouch UK in any way I can.
“People are suffering headaches for years and years and not being diagnosed until decades down the line. If more people are aware of the condition then they’re more likely to get help and a diagnosis quicker.
“We’ve rung ambulances and had paramedics out because it’s so scary and we’ve had no other choice. It’s absolutely heart-breaking to watch, you feel so powerless. “This fundraising is one way I can make a difference, even if it’s in a small way, to raise awareness of the condition.”
Deborah, 44, who lives in Burnage, suffered her first cluster headache at the age of 18, shortly after the birth of her first daughter, Georgia. Initially, she worried she had a brain tumour but despite countless medical appointments with GPs, neurologists and specialists, she still has no answers.
“You cannot compare it to anything,” said Deborah, who lives with her partner Peter Morgan, 50, a utilities worker.
“Cluster headaches are the considered the worst pain known to mankind. When you’re in it you bang your head off the wall or floor, you pull your hair out and become unaware of your surroundings.
“You feel like you’re fighting to stay alive. When it’s over you wonder how on earth you survived. It’s amazing to be able to experience that much pain and still be breathing.
“You just will it away. You’re completely exhausted afterwards but frightened to go to sleep because it’s a trigger. When I go to bed at night, nine out of ten times I’ll wake up with a cluster headache within 45 minutes.”
Deborah, who rarely leaves the home in case she has an attack, had never heard of cluster headaches until coincidently catching a radio programme discussing the topic.
“It was unbelievable, they could have been talking about me,” said the mum-of-two, who also has an 18-year-old daughter called Nikita.
“I immediately Googled the condition and found the Ouch UK website. At this point I was at the end of my tether. I felt like there was no way out and if someone wasn’t there to help me I don’t know what would’ve happened. They literally saved my life.
“Ouch is run by volunteers who are sufferers or partners of sufferers. There is a forum where you can ask questions and receive a lot of information. You can phone them 24 hours a day.”
The charity offered practical advice to Deborah about the best treatments and medication available and put her in contact with a wide support network of other sufferers.
It was through the charity that Deborah discovered oxygen therapy could shorten the length of her cluster headaches during an attack.
“Before that I could have one of these horrendous headaches for five hours and end up in A & E,” she said.
“There’s an injection I can now take for some pain relief. There is also a steroid for short-term use which is amazing but you can’t use it long-term so I save that for when I go away.
“I can’t live a normal life but I do try and live a normal life with the condition.
“There are various triggers and everybody is different. For me it’s strong smells and certain lighting and sleeping. It’s like torture but you learn to deal with it.
“When Georgia told me about the fundraising I was over the moon. If just one person who needs help knows about Ouch you could literally save their life. I cannot tell you how much this organisation saved my life. I’m very proud of Georgia, it’s fantastic. She has a heart of gold and is a real people person. This is typical of her.”
Georgia, who started her travel career as an apprentice at Swissport in Manchester Airport later worked for Thomas Cook and Virgin Holidays, and was an assistant manager of Euro Change in Manchester before taking her new job at Hays Travel in Macclesfield.
“I’ve now come back to travel again and that’s where my heart is, this is what I’m good at,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to taking on this new challenge and getting to know our customers here. At the end of the day we make dreams come true whether it’s the first time on holiday for a family or someone who wants to try a new destination.
“Whatever the needs of the customer, we make it our mission to help them find their dream holiday and so it’s a very rewarding job.”
Georgia is looking forward to using her new platform as manager of the new Macclesfield Hays Travel to raise money for a fantastic cause.
“We have so many ideas in the pipeline,” she said.
“We are aiming to do an event such as the Three Peak Challenge or climbing Snowdon as well as cake sales and raffles.
“We’ve been in contact with the charity and they are sending us T-shirts and wristbands to sell at our events.”
Val Hobbs, administrator for Ouch UK, said she was delighted to be chosen as a charity partner for the Macclesfield store.
“As a charity we are funded solely by voluntary contributions and membership donations and fundraising events like Hays Travel in Macclesfield are planning for us,” she said.
“We do not receive any government or business funding, we are entirely self-supporting, and so we are delighted. Every penny we raise is absolutely vital for us.
“We run a helpline which is accessed by between 600 and 700 people every year. We have a website to maintain. People can become pretty desperate if they cannot find the right treatment or their GP isn’t listening. Other than a part-time administration role everything we raise goes into keeping the charity going.”
To contact Ouch UK go to www.ouchuk.org or call 01646 651979.