Physiotherapist Rachel Kennedy has been awarded a 2019 Churchill Fellowship to travel aboard to gather insights to help benefit children and young people living with neuromuscular disorders in Australia. 

The fellowship will see her visit dedicated neuromuscular disease centres in the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and the USA for six weeks next year and bring the best of their therapeutic exercises practices back to Australia. 

"The aim is to straight away apply the knowledge I gain into the Neuromuscular Clinic program at The Royal Children's Hospital," she said.

"In the medium term I hope this knowledge will be used to create an exercise program that will set up and support community-based programs for young people with neuromuscular disease.

"My vision is for such a program to be rolled out across Australia with the use of video conferencing and educational webinars for physiotherapists and exercise professionals." 

Dr Kennedy, who works in neuromuscular research at MCRI, said exercise was effective in most neuromuscular disease cases.  

"Historically exercise was considered to be potentially harmful for people with neuromuscular disease and was often discouraged," she said. 

"This had led to inactivity and health complications. We now know thanks to research that exercise is safe in most neuromuscular diseases and that it not only effective but can slow disease progression in some cases. "Currently it is only in centres of paediatric neuromuscular disease in Melbourne and Sydney that exercise has started to be promoted in the past few years."  

Dr Kennedy said she was offered the opportunity to work in neuromuscular research almost 14 years ago and it grew on her. 

"Working with children, young people and their families has always been where my vocational calling was," she said. 

"Many neuromuscular diseases are degenerative and can have a devastating impact on the lives of the children affected and their families. By undertaking research in these diseases, I hope that my work makes a practical difference to the everyday lives of children and young people."

Churchill Fellowships were awarded to 115 Australians this year.