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My NHS stories: To witness how they look after him is out of this world

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My NHS story: To witness how they look after him is out of this world

Teva UK is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the NHS this year. Everyone has a story of how this vital service has saved the lives of loved ones. Tracy Dawes, the Associate Director for HR Shared Services at Teva, replied with this story of her brother Nigel and how the NHS is helping his ongoing battle with a progressive and debilitating disease.

“My brother is 60 years old. Until five years ago, he was absolutely fine. He’d had asthma as a kid, but nothing serious. He is now ill with a condition called relapsing polychondritis. This is a rare auto-immune disease that is characterised by recurrent episodes of inflammation of the cartilage including joints, ears, trachea-bronchial tree, nose, throat – as well as heart, eye, blood vessels and inner ear.

The disease is progressive; it starts out with little things. At the beginning, all he had was a sore ear. The disease targets cartilage, but the doctors couldn’t work out what was going on because his ear was sore all the time. They were giving him antibiotics and stuff and then he’d develop another symptom, then another, but because the disease is so rare nobody could put the symptoms together to diagnose what it was.

In the end they were at a party chatting with an NHS consultant whom he and his wife both know. This consultant said, ‘Get them to test him for this’. And that’s what it was.

He’s now under a local consultant in Northallerton, where he lives, and twice a year he goes to see a specialist in London, who monitors the development of the disease and advises his local specialist on any changes in courses of treatment. His respiratory consultant is there for him and his wife for every step, and encourages them to call him for the smallest things, for reassurance or for guidance.”

In the absence of a treatment for the underlying disease, explains Tracy, Nigel keeps individual symptoms at bay with a variety of prescription treatments.

They’ve got him on a cocktail of drugs that can control some parts of the illness, but not all of it. Last winter, when the flu virus was doing the rounds he ended up in hospital because his disease makes him vulnerable to even the most minor infections. Imagine something as insignificant as a cold putting you in hospital – a sore throat, a chest infection every time results in a stay in hospital and a real threat to his life.

I have seen him in hospital gasping for breath and incredibly ill, with his heartbroken wife doing her best to hold herself together while she and the rest of our family helplessly watch him suffer. But after every episode, he comes out of hospital singing the praises of the NHS staff who care for him.

Recently, he developed pneumonia. His wife rang for help and they arrived within five minutes. That’s some going. The care that they give him is incredible. To witness how they look after him is out of this world. He can’t thank them enough for the care that he receives.

Northallerton is not a very big hospital, so many of the nurses who care for him have got to know him very well, and seeing the same faces each time reassures us all about continuity of care for him.

But there’s more to his treatment than just the time he spends in hospital. The local NHS services also take care of his wellbeing when he’s not in hospital. He’s had the health visitor round to see him in the last few weeks wanting to know if there’s anything they can do for him around the home. He can’t stand up for a long time any more, and they wanted to see what aids he needed to get around or make life at home easier for him.

We all grew up in a working-class family, not expecting to get anything much in the way of help. But the care and the people involved in his care have been fantastic. I can’t speak highly enough of them.

Nigel has now got mobility aids, a mobility scooter, a chairlift. The care that the local NHS has given him has been incredible. They even helped him decide which mobility scooter to get, advising him to buy the right brand and to look for a secondhand one first.

My brother says that they can’t do enough for him and although he says thank you constantly for everything they do, and for supporting us as a family, words can never be enough.

When all is said and done, we know Nigel’s disease is progressive and incurable. But he’s my big brother, and we want to keep him here for as long as we can. The NHS is making sure that happens.”