RIP John Prestwich MBE 24-11-1938 - 27-02-2006

Breeze Cottage

In hospital for 16 years, the first 7 in an iron lung, then in 1971 John married Maggie and for the next 35 years and until he passed away in 2006, his home was Breeze Cottage.


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A Few Words But A Long Sentence

The result of having contracted polio in 1955 was for me a complete and utter life-changing experience. I was a strapping 16 year old lad of 6í3", very fit and active, but during the week of my 17th birthday I was hit very hard by the poliovirus. Within a few days I was in hospital, totally paralysed and because I could no longer breathe, was kept alive in an iron lung. The poliovirus completely and permanently destroyed all the motor neurones in my spinal cord, so for the subsequent 48 years the only muscles I have been able to use are those in my face. I cannot lift or turn my head and my swallowing muscles are partly affected. And I am still totally dependent on a ventilator 24 hours a day to keep me alive.

What followed next was 16 years permanently in hospital (the first 7 in an iron lung). Because of my total dependence on a ventilator, I must have someone with me 24 hours of the day. Since 1971 that "someone" has been my wife Maggie. It was only once we were married that I was able to leave hospital to live in my own home, since when she has provided more than 95% of the care I must have.

Since the mid 60s Iíve lived 24 hours of the day on a chair/bed and using a cuirass (chest) respirator to breathe. Without the constriction of the iron lung I have therefore been more "mobile". However, when Iíve undergone surgery, or when I catch a simple cold Ė itís back into the iron lung. At such times I go into the Lane Fox Unit at St. Thomasís Hospital, London. I am eternally grateful for the kindness, care and expertise of the staff on the Unit who have saved my life on more than one occasion. At this point I feel I must emphasise that, contrary to popular belief (including many members of the medical profession) the iron lung is still very much in use.

One of our biggest "bug-bears" is finding equipment to suit my particular needs. If I was less disabled, I could use much of the equipment which is available on the open market. However, because my disability is so extensive (? unique), there is very little equipment around to be of practical use to me. Over the years, most of the equipment we require has either been made, modified or designed by ourselves (and believe it or not, this includes respiratory equipment!)

To get around we have our own vehicle. Because of my overall size and life support equipment, this has to be a people-carrier. We travel here, there and everywhere and do things which most people do. Iíve been up the Eiffel Tower, on the London Eye, on a BR train trip, to Calais - via the tunnel. I go to galleries, cinemas, theatres, exhibitions, polo, Royal Ascot, weddings (and funerals), restaurants, friendsí homes and so on.

In 1999, at my instigation, a new motorised chair/bed was designed and made for me. This meant that I was able, for the very first time after 44 years of total immobility, to move myself entirely independently from A to B (using a mouth switch). Freedom!!! When I first became disabled I couldnít even ring an alarm bell if I needed help. Modern technology has transformed my life.

   John Prestwich 2001

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