WHEN Dave Jackson collapsed and almost died after falling ill with a rare auto-immune condition, expert care at the Royal Gwent Hospital's critical care unit helped him get back on his feet - with the help of a special bike.

The 56-year-old, from Chepstow, faced a long road to recovery after being struck down last year with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a debilitating and occasionally life-threatening condition which affects the nerves.

He was an intensive care patient for 10 weeks at the Royal Gwent, where physiotherapists helped him to start regaining his strength through a trial involving the use of an exercise bike.

“Getting on the bike is a stepping stone into rehabilitation - you see that bike and you know then that you're getting better. You know you're not just going to lie in that bed and vegetate," said Mr Jackson, who is now continuing his rehabilitation closer to home at Chepstow community hospital.

“When I first got on the bike I was a bit apprehensive as I had been so ill, but as the days and weeks went on my legs and arms got so much stronger.

“You got back into bed after exercising on the bike and you really did feel alive. It's fantastic.”

So successful was the exercise bike trial in critical care, that the Welsh Government has funded two bikes for the unit, enabling patients to exercise their arms and legs at their bedside, as soon as they are able.

“When patients are in a critical care environment they develop muscle weakness which can lead to problems with physical function," said physiotherapist Sara Biggs, who trialled the bikes in the intensive care unit as part of an Aneurin Bevan University Health Board improvement project.

“There's lots of literature to say that the earlier we get people moving, the better. Using these bikes at an early stage definitely helps to preserve ICU patients' muscle mass and also helps them to keep moving and gain the strength to get back up walking more quickly.

“The bikes have been quite motivational for patients as they prepare for the ongoing work that they will be doing in rehabilitation.”