Thousands of people shared the Derry Journal’s online appeal directed towards a fundraising campaign for local man Paul McKeever who suffered kidney failure and became seriously ill. Now Paul’s back and has one big thank you for all those who helped him. The Journal caught up with him in his family home in Culmore this week...
Paul McKeever would have a few words with David Cameron about the importance of the NHS, were the pair ever to meet.
A Derry man born and bred, Paul had moved to America where he spent 16 years working and living in California. With a close circle of friends in the US, life had been going well for Paul until April this year when he became seriously ill.
Paul waited for weeks before reporting to his local hospital in the US concerned about the medical bills he would no doubt face. At that stage, however, the Derry man had no idea just how serious his condition was and when he was eventually seen by medics he was admitted straight away and diagnosed as having kidney failure.
In the days immediately afterwards, with no improvement in his condition, Paul’s health deteriorated.
Hooked up to machines in the hospital ward in California, he says he felt more awful than he ever had in his life.
Icela Martin, a close friend of Paul’s set up an online fundraising campaign to raise money to help cover the Derry man’s treatment.
The treatment in America was just enough to ensure that 53-year-old Paul was physically able to travel home, which he did two weeks ago.
Since then, he says, the progress in his condition has been remarkable.
Currently receiving dialysis three times weekly at the Renal Unit in the grounds of Altnagelvin Hospital, Paul says he believes that the standard is so superior to that in the America that his physical condition has improved in leaps and bounds since taking the decision to travel home.
“The standard of care I’ve received since coming home is unbeatable,” said Paul, speaking from his family home in Culmore this week.
The Derry man - well known for his career in musical and theatre circles here - said the right treatment is available in America, but only those who have the means to pay for it.
To give an idea of the cost, he refers to ambulance trips between the hospital and the renal unit he was attending which came at $2,000 a trip. Treatment and surgery costs are straight away into the tens of thousands.
“Stanford is the leading hospital for all kinds of rare conditions but whether or not you can get that treatment depends entirely on your insurance,” explained Paul.
“When I was there I saw an elderly man recovering from a broken hip and leg asked to leave. This man was 88 years of age and it was heartbreaking to watch.
“Coming back home and looking around me at the renal unit in Derry where I’m receiving dialysis, I’m blown away by what we have here. I can’t speak enough good of the staff at Altnagelvin and about the standard of NHS care. For the first week I was back here the first few sessions of dialysis weren’t straightforward but the doctors took time to work out what the problem was. They went away and worked it out and experimented until they got it right and now I feel just great.
In America, I needed help to do even the smallest things. I could barely even walk a few steps. Now I’m able to manage the stairs. It’s just unbelievable. And the treatment in the renal unit is second to none. Everyone calls you by your first name and they even bring round a cup of tea, which for me, is like a magic bullet. That chat that someone in the unit has with you or the fact that they even take the time to bring you a cup of tea, means the world. We should really fight as hard as we can here to keep the NHS. In my mind, there’s no equal to it anywhere in the world. I know that’s a fight that will continue over the next few years, but it’s something I’ll be supporting 100 per cent. From my experience, as someone who needed treatment, I was treated like a VIP, and so were all those around me.”
As well as praising the NHS, Paul said the emotional support he’s received from the people of his home town, and the many donations which were made to his fund, gave him a massive boost while ill in the US - and a desire to travel home. It’s something he said he will never forget.
“I’ve spoken to so many people about this since I got back, but there’s no doubt about the fact that you always know Derry people will do anything to help in a crisis. I know I’ve done it myself at times when I knew there were people needing help, but then, all of a sudden, I was the one who needed help and when I got it as I did it was truly humbling. The money was a huge help of course, but apart from that were the notes, cards, texts and messages I got when people here at home found out what had happened. There were messages from people I’d gone to school with who I hadn’t heard from in years. To have all those people behind me was better than any medicine. There’s something very special about this part of the world, and I’ve definitely experienced that over the past few months.”
While Paul had been in America for 16 years, his Derry roots have never left him. A former St Columb’s College pupil, the 53-year-old commented that the city he loves so much has changed for the better.
“The place just looks so well and so clean and manicured,” he told the ‘Journal’.
“I can’t get over it. I’m delighted to be home and have absolutely no plans to leave any time soon,” he smiled.
While he’ll continue to receive dialysis, Paul has been told by doctors that he will eventually require a double transplant where he’ll receive a new pancreas and kidney. While he waits for that transplant, Paul will continue with his dialysis at Altnagelvin’s renal unit.
In between those regular hospital visits, he said, he intends to catch up with old friends and enjoy some music now that he’s back on home ground. For years before leaving Derry, Paul was heavily involved in the local music and theatre scene here. The people he had come to know within that community, rallied around while he was ill in America.
“Now that I’m back I’m conscious that I have to take it much easier and I suppose what I really want to do now is sit back and enjoy some music. That’s something I’m really looking forward to.”