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Make room for the kidney kids;Schools amp; Society

Holly Johnson's school life was transformed when the head's bathroom became a dialysis centre. Esther Leach reports from a city trying hard to find out what its young disabled people want

It's breaktime and Holly Johnson is unlocking the door to the dialysis room next to the headteacher's office.

"It used to be his bathroom. Now it's where I have my treatment every morning break," said Holly, 13, a pupil at Rodillian comprehensive in Lofthouse, near Leeds.

Jayne Forrow, a special needs assistant, helps Holly hook up a bag of solution to a tube already fixed in her body.

"This is great for kidney kids because they don't have to go home for dialysis and miss classes," said Holly, who has covered the walls of the converted room with certificates of excellence in sports and dance.

"Sometimes I do my homework during the dialysis, which takes about 20 minutes, but usually Jayne and I just talk and laugh. Sometimes we have to calm down because we make so much noise the head must hear us and he could be having a meeting."

The dialysis room, not much bigger than an airing cupboard, was an idea which evolved during discussions between Holly's mother Gail Johnson, John Heald, the head, Ian Blakeley, his special education needs co-ordinator, and Roger Norton, the administrator manager.

They searched the sprawling school for a suitable room. "The head's bathroom was perfect because there isn't a window or any vents for bugs to get in. I've put up some certificates and brought in some teddy bears."

The dialysis room, which cost pound;1,200 to convert, is an example of what other young disabled people are asking schools in Leeds to do.

Eighteen young members have been given seats on a new council committee to ensure that their views are known to policy makers and those who control the cash.

Holly, one of the members, speaks up for people like 15-year-old Chris Anderson who is wheelchair bound, but an expert at getting around Rodillian's corridors.

He is pleased that people are going to listen to them. "I've got some ideas I'd like to discuss such as wider corridors for pupils in wheelchairs. We've already moved the lockers in the corridors here so it's easier to get about."

There are four ramps in the school, a new lift to the science lab and a stair lift outside the art block.

"If kidney kids can have their own rooms in schools then maybe young people with, say, diabetes, who need to have regular injections, can have a place of their own too. If it's safe and there is no risk of infection we could share a room. It's better than going to the usual medical room where children go with coughs and colds," said Holly.

The Kidney Foundation and National Kidney Research Fund welcomed the idea of school dialysis rooms, which it said was most unusual.

Spokeswoman Penny Owen said: "Anything that allows young people to carry on their lives and education in as normal a way as possible has to be a step forward. I'd like to see more schools doing the same."

Headteacher John Heald said he hoped being on the new Young Disabled People's Advisory Group would encourage pupils to ask for what they need not only in school but also when they begin work.

Brian Dale, the councillor who came up with the idea of the group, said: "Until now, we have had no way of raising the interests of young disabled people or even of finding out what they want. This new group will allow us to understand their lifestyles and aspirations."

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