A millionaire who gave away his fortune to help people with cancer access treatment, will today meet with senior staff at the North West Cancer Centre.
Brian Burnie (74) this week traversed along the Inishowen coast and will arrive in Derry this afternoon before walking through the city tomorrow and on to Letterkenny.
Mr Burnie ploughed his entire fortune into a charity to provide free transport for cancer patients in the North East of England and is currently half way through an epic 7,000-miles trek on foot around Britain and Ireland on a mission to see the services his charity provides in the Newcastle area expanded right across these islands.
Former entrepreneur Mr. Burnie, who has Parkinson’s Disease, gave up his stately home and other belongings and founded the ‘Daft as a Brush’ Cancer Patient Care charity in 2010. Since then it has gone on to offer 40,000 patient journeys each year for people receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with a team of over 300 volunteers.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ on route from Malin Head to Ballyliffin on Wednesday, Brian and his wife Cheryl, who is travelling by his side on their ‘Bluebell Bus’ mobile home, said they were delighted with the warm welcome and the local scenery they have come across.
Cheryl Burnie said: “It’s fabulous, absolutely fabulous. We were saying the Highlands of Scotland were truly outstanding but this is even better!”
Brian said that since they landed in Dublin, the entire trip has been breathtaking. “Since getting off the ferry it’s been absolutely incredible,” he said. “It’s an absolutely beautiful country. The coastline is out of this world and the people have been very, very kind; it’s quite moving actually.
“We go to the hospital in Derry this Friday afternoon to meet with the Cancer Specialists.”
Prior to beginning his trek here, Brian met with oncologists at the North West Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital in the hope of setting up the meeting and was delighted with the positive response and welcome he received. He said that the Head of the Cancer Centre here used to work at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, and so is aware of the work of the ‘Daft As A Brush’ charity.
Brian said he hopes to see his dream of free travel for cancer patients across Derry, Donegal and the rest of Ireland and Britain, realised within the next two years.
“I have been involved in charity work for 50 years in cancer care travel for the past nine or ten years. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I didn’t know how important it was.
“We have a team of 350 volunteers who transport patients all over the North East in England. Travelling is the worst part of it for patients, even from the inner city - it could be a two or three miles journey or a 100 miles journey. Whether people get someone to take them, or get a taxi or bus, there is a cost implication. The story has come to light in recent years about how many patients don’t go ahead with their treatment or give up because it is so difficult to get to hospital. Chemotherapy is the most draining treatment on a patient and they get that day after day and people just want to be able to get home afterwards, and that could be a big expensive billion pound home or a block of flats on a rough estate.”
Brain said the legion of volunteers who take those patients to and from their appointments have been amazing. “They aren’t getting paid and they don’t know what the word ‘no’ is, it’s always ‘yes’ and always with a smile on their faces.
“The service,” he added, “has to be integrated with the treatment, an all-in-one, and this would complement what is already there.”
Brian and Cheryl set off from the coastline of Northumberland a year ago and has trekked through Scotland, Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, North Wales and County Down and will be travelling the length and breadth of Ireland for at least another five months.
You can follow Brian’s walk and discover more at www.daftasabrushbluebellbus.org.uk/