‘We could never repay the hospital for what it’s done’

Local artist Martin McNamee pictured at his Roe Gardens home this week showing off some of his artwork. DER3115MC006
Local artist Martin McNamee pictured at his Roe Gardens home this week showing off some of his artwork. DER3115MC006

Martin McNamee’s home is brimming with colour - his beautifully crafted paintings in oil or watercolour hang from almost every wall.

There are familiar scenes - Derry’s Peace Bridge, Mussenden Temple and even the Dark Hedges (more recently made famous to a new legion of tourists as a filming location for blockbuster TV series ‘Game of Thrones’). But there are also less familiar scenes - places of quiet solitude and immense natural beauty - but each with their own story to tell.

And Martin too has his own story to tell - how his own struggles with his health have led him to find his passion in life, and how watching his then three year old son battle for his life prompted him to vow to do whatever he could to give back to the men and women of our NHS.

Through this, and despite his talent, Martin remains an immensely modest man. He lives with chronic daily pain - as a result of a degenerative back condition - but he does not complain. He simply does what he can to make the most of each day, with his wife Joanne by his side and their four sons.

“Painting was always something I dabbled with. I would do a bit here, and a bit there but it was more of a hobby than anything,” Martin said.

He would sell the occasional piece of artwork but it was only when he became seriously ill with cancer in 2008 that he made a promise to himself that if he pulled through he would concentrate on his painting.

While the cancer was not Martin’s first brush with serious health issues, he said it brought the world into focus.

“My health problems started in 1999, when I had to undergo spinal surgery for 16 hours. That helped straighten my legs, but it did not ease my pain so for the last 16 years I have been on morphine to cope with the pain.

Then in 2005 and 2006, I had to undergo surgery to have stents fitted in my heart. I was just starting to feel better again - to get my energy back, when I found out I had cancer.”

It was in early 2008 that Martin first found a small, pea sized lump in his testicle. Within three weeks it had grown to the size of a duck egg - and soon after he was told he had an aggressive form of cancer which would require not only surgery, but radiotherapy and chemotherapy - including spinal chemotherapy to prevent the cancer cells spreading to his brain through his spine.

His children were aged just 9, 7 and 3 at the time and his wife, Joanne, was seven months pregnant with their fourth child.

“Martin was very matter of fact about it. He was more worried about me and the boys, but it was an awful time. The fear of not knowing what was coming next was awful,” Joanne said.

She said that while he was undergoing treatment Martin told her he saw the world differently. “He said colours were brighter, things were more in focus.”

“I promised myself if I got through it, I would use my talent and I would start to paint more,” he said - and it was the thought of painting, and of fighting to see his four sons grow up that kept him going even through the excruciating stages of his spinal chemo.

“I knew I had so much to fight for,” Martin said, revealing that he had even put off having his chemo started so that he could be there for the birth of his son Marco.

Then, in 2012, it was Marco’s turn to give the family a huge scare. “He’d had a head cold for a few weeks but had seemed well enough in himself,” Martin said. However after a few weeks Marco developed a temperature that he and Joanne struggled to get under control.

“His colour was off. He wasn’t eating right - so we took him to the doctor who told us it was just a bad cold and that we were doing everything right.

“But my gut, it felt like something different,” Martin said.

By that night Marco had developed a bad cough, and by the following morning he was begging his daddy to help him.

“It would have broken your heart,” Joanne said - adding that just a couple of hours later Martin noticed a blue tinge around Marco’s mouth and they rushed him back to the doctor and he was sent straight to hospital.

The tot had pneumonia and one of his lungs had completely collapsed. His second lung was also not functioning at full capacity and it took a team of 14 medical staff to stabilise Marco. There then followed a rollercoaster of several weeks as Marco’s condition would stabilise and then rapidly deteriorate without warning.

“At one stage we were told he might need to be put into an induced coma to help his body recover. My legs just left me,” Martin said. “I remember falling to my knees and begging God to take me instead of my son.”

“It was an horrific time,” Joanne added. “We felt so useless. All we could do was put our trust in the medical staff in Derry and in Belfast - and they showed Marco such care.”

Following a two week stay in Belfast Marco was able to return to Derry - and has now made a full recovery - something Joanne and Martin describe as ‘nothing short of miraculous’.

So when asked why he donates half of his earnings to the hospital, Martin does not hesitate. “I can never repay it for what it did for Marco and for me. But painting - making money for them - has given me a renewed purpose and now I feel a bit obsessed about it,” he laughs.

Martin paints landscape scenes in oil - his first love - and watercolour. Each picture tells a story, focusing on the history of the beautiful country around us - and a painting can take up to five weeks to perfect.

He also increasingly works on a commission basis, creating unique paintings on canvas which capture a special memory or place for buyers.

And still he remains modest - and quiet about promoting his work. Nonetheless he hopes to be able to mount an exhibition towards the end of a year in a new venue - a little cottage close to Park, which is in the process of being renovated into a gallery.

“We hope to be able to run it from May to September each year - but we also hope to mount a small exhbition before the end of the year.”

To find out more about Martin and his work, visit www.paintwithmartin.com