Pro­file: Hay­ley Teas­dale

Behind Hay­ley Teasdale’s tall, ath­let­ic physique is not just a bril­liant mind, but an ill­ness that could have killed her. And still could without the ongo­ing assist­ance of the Red Cross Blood Centre.

Hay­ley suf­fers from an immune defi­ciency con­di­tion that went undetec­ted until she reached uni­ver­sity.

I went all through school being undia­gnosed. I just accep­ted it as being nor­mal,” Hay­ley explained.

One mes­sage Hay­ley is keen to impart, through her TEDx address and the atten­tion that can gen­er­ate, is get out and donate blood and plas­ma. “I wouldn’t be here today if not for the Red Cross.”

Des­pite a love of bas­ket­ball, net­ball and yacht­ing, Hay­ley often found her­self ill dur­ing her earli­er years. But there was a sil­ver lin­ing to all the free time the ill­ness afforded her. Hay­ley put that time to good use, read­ing fero­ciously. “I had to use my brain because my body was out of action for so much of the time,” she said.

One author, sci­ent­ist and speak­er who caught Hayley’s atten­tion was Dr Oliv­er Sacks. The work of Dr Sacks, a Brit­ish-born neur­o­lo­gist who spent the bulk of his career in the United States, inspired Hay­ley to pur­sue a sim­il­ar path.

Dr Sacks passed away last year, but his work has found fer­tile soil in Hayley’s ima­gin­a­tion and ongo­ing stud­ies, which are now devoted to neuro­plas­ti­city.

It’s pretty much the way your brain can learn, [the way] it makes new path­ways or gets rid of old path­ways that you’re not using, and in that way your brain is plastic. Through­out your whole life, you’re cap­able of this change. Your neur­ons can join oth­er neur­ons and make new syn­apses and new path­ways. My work is about util­ising that. It’s end­lessly fas­cin­at­ing,” Haley said.

There’s a lot of stuff you can do in cog­nit­ive train­ing. Nobody is per­fect when it comes to memory or atten­tion, there’s always room for improve­ment and neuro­plas­ti­city shows us that you can train that – it’s all about prac­tice. And then you have someone with Parkinson’s dis­ease and they have parts of their brain that are dam­aged and not func­tion­ing nor­mally, so what we can do is cre­ate new path­ways.”

For the last year, Hayley’s research has focused on study­ing the effects of train­ing the brain via neuro­plas­ti­city and she has a sur­pris­ingly sim­ple mes­sage for those inter­ested in improv­ing them­selves.

Well actu­ally, it’s just exer­cise,” Haley said. “The simplest exer­cise any­one can do that will give any­one improve­ment is walk­ing or run­ning … Exer­cise improves cog­nit­ive abil­ity and phys­ic­al abil­ity.”

Another sim­ple exer­cise any of us can do to help the bril­liant and non-bril­liant alike is to donate blood and plas­ma. It may just save the life of a neur­os­cient­ist.

Author Myles Peterson is part of the TEDx Can­ber­ra media team.

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