On TV, Steve Leonard saves our pets but he’s had his own health battle to win

Steve with a giraffeWall To Wall Media

Steve has learnt the hard way that he needs to look after himself.

Otherwise, he risks getting one of the debilitating migraines that have plagued him since he was growing up in Cheshire as one of four boys.

With his regular television filming commitments, as well as his work at the Shropshire branch of the family practice, Steve, 45, is reluctant to trigger a migraine attack.

“When I was around 10, I started getting abdominal migraines,” recalls Steve, who is married to equine vet Cathy, 33. “I got a lot of gut ache, severe irritable bowel syndrome, vomiting attacks and headaches.

“I was completely incapacitated by them. I shuffled around as the increased effort of going up and downstairs made them worse.

“They were so intense and pulsatile, in line with my heartbeat, and my head would literally spin with pain. I’d close my eyes and try to calm myself down.”

After a fruitless visit to a GP, who advised Steve’s already healthy family to “stop eating junk food”, his mother took him to see an alternative therapist who used healing and muscle testing.

When her advice was to stop eating wheat, barley and rye, Steve did just that – for 12 years.

“Looking back, I can see how a reduction in grains helped my health,” says Steve.

“But I took it to the extreme. I looked at the ingredients on everything and if food contained any wheat, I would freak out. It was almost self-fulfilling. The stress of worrying about migraines probably brought one on.”

Steve with MonkeyBBC

Steve had two-three attacks a year but, with the pressure of studying, he had four in three months.

But it was when Steve was studying for a veterinary science degree at the University of Bristol that he realised just how violent his migraine attacks were.

Until then, only his family had witnessed them and they had grown used to them.

“Like most people, my flatmates thought my migraines were just a bad headache until I had one,” recalls Steve.

“The vomiting alone was so violent, they didn’t know what to do. My whole body was in spasm and thrashing about. Veins popped out of my neck and my face was red. I made so much noise, people could hear me down the street.

“My flatmates panicked. They were as white as sheets and I was reassuring them. It was the first time I’d seen what was happening through someone else’s eyes.”

Normally, Steve had two or three attacks a year but, with the extra pressures of studying, he had four in three months.

“I thought I had a brain tumour and I was going to die,” he confides.

“When I saw the doctor, he pointed out I was on a difficult stressful degree course, but he said I had classic migraine symptoms. He suggested I stayed hydrated and took painkillers.”

Ironically, around the same time, Steve was chosen for BBC’s new documentary Vets’ School.

I was skipping meals and working with people who could survive on coffee all day. I didn’t want to be seen as weak because I needed to have a break and eat

Steve Leonard

“We were incredibly naïve. We thought it would be a bit of a laugh,” he says.

“It was a pre-Big Brother TV reality show. I’d no idea it would evolve into something millions of people would watch. People seemed to love watching young vets training to do a job that everyone admires. They filmed our mistakes, our successes, everything.

“But it was stressful in itself, because we knew everyone was going to be watching and we couldn’t mess it up.”

Having been a huge success in Vets’ School, the cameras followed Steve after graduation to his first job in Lancaster, where he was filmed for Vets In Practice.

The programme again drew huge audiences, often reaching more than 11 million viewers.

“The first six months were stressful,” he recalls.

“Until that point, we’d had more qualified people checking our decisions and our work, but now I was out in the real world, with such responsibility.”

Steve with animalsBBC2

Cameras followed Steve after graduation to his first job in Lancaster for Vets In Practice.

The migraines continued.

Then 10 years ago, while Steve was filming on location, his agent Jo witnessed an attack.

“Like my student flatmates, Jo was scared by what she saw,” reveals Steve, “and she recommended I saw a chronic pain specialist.”

At that point, Steve was filming all over the world, from America to Asia. “I was filming wildlife documentaries, such as Ultimate Killers and Extreme Animals, for the BBC,” he says.

“We spent more than 200 days on the road to make three hours of television. I would do it again in a heartbeat but it came at a cost.

“I had long, exciting days, with some jet lag thrown into the mix. I was skipping meals and working with people who could survive on coffee all day. I didn’t want to be seen as weak because I needed to have a break and eat.

“Also, I’d work with one director, then they would finish, but I started straight away with the next director who wanted to hit the ground running. I felt burnt out. My blood sugar got so low and my concentration was so poor that it would take me 50 takes to do one scene.”

The pain specialist pointed out to Steve the importance of eating well and regularly, and the advice gave him the confidence to tell crews when he needed to eat.

“They started to realise that if I didn’t eat, I couldn’t work,” says Steve. “And from then on, instead of insisting we worked through lunch, crews would say, ‘Feed him.’ Just

a snack would keep me ticking over.”

Once back home and working at the family practice, Steve changed his routine there, too.

Steve looking happyBBC

Steve stopped eating wheat for 12 years in an attempt to stop his migraines.

“I had my breakfast about 7am and then I’d go all morning and early afternoon until 2pm before I had lunch, which I ate standing up,” he says.

“It was no wonder that I was still getting migraines.

“I discussed it with colleagues and we all agreed it wasn’t about proving ourselves. We needed to look after ourselves so we could be our best when we worked.”

Steve had never been a party animal and has always been teetotal, so the only all-nighters he’s had have been as a vet on call.

“I realised I couldn’t do a horrific night on call and then work the next morning without getting a migraine,” he says. “Now my colleagues and I have agreed that if we work through the night, we’ll go home and get some sleep.”

Steve’s migraines are now under control and life is just as busy – with daughters Severn, who’s three, and five-month-old Tay along with the family’s rescue cat Bruce.

He’s been in talks about a new vet series for television and is due to appear as a guest on two quiz shows, Pointless Celebrities and Curious Creatures.

Steve is also spearheading the #PrepForPup campaign for Devon-based natural pet food maker, Forthglade, to point out the pros and cons of owning a dog.

“When people come to see me, I can see the bond they have with their pet. They’re on a voyage of discovery,” he says.

Steve in operating room in vet uniform BBC

To download the “one paw at a time” guide, visit forthglade.com.

“When we get it right, a pet improves our lives considerably. Why else would we go out in horrendous weather other than to walk our dog?

Their love for us is unconditional.

“But getting a pet, and especially a puppy, is a massive commitment. The research showed one in 10 pups are re-homed within a month.

“I urge people to do their research, get their homes puppy-proofed, book their training classes, make sure they have kennels or friends who will have their dogs when they go on holiday and be aware of what they’re getting in to. And then enjoy it – it’s a relationship like no other.”

To download the “one paw at a time” guide, visit forthglade.com.

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Post Author: martin

Martin is an enthusiastic programmer, a webdeveloper and a young entrepreneur. He is intereted into computers for a long time. In the age of 10 he has programmed his first website and since then he has been working on web technologies until now. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of BriefNews.eu and PCHealthBoost.info Online Magazines. His colleagues appreciate him as a passionate workhorse, a fan of new technologies, an eternal optimist and a dreamer, but especially the soul of the team for whom he can do anything in the world.

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