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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As soon as there was steady progress in his general state of health, plans to get him out of the iron lung for short periods were put into action. Having spent more than two years flat on his back, sitting up was going to be very uncomfortable to the extreme. A redundant dentist’s chair was found in the hospital and he was gently lifted into it. The first attempt was an unbelievably painful experience for John and to this day he still winces as he recalls that occasion!

John had a great ally in George – the hospital’s deputy chief porter. George would never let John feel sorry for himself but who, over the years proved to be an invaluable source of encouragement to John – so much so that for years John would never get up or go out unless George was with him. For the periods that John was out of his iron lung he would use the positive pressure bellows to breathe with. The only (!) drawback to this pump was that it only operated on mains electricity. This fact did not deter our George, for as soon as John could tolerate sitting in a wheelchair, George decided it was time for John to have his first taste of the big wide world and took him to the barber’s shop just outside the hospital grounds and hand-pumped the bellows all way to keep John breathing! Eventually, John’s outings became a little more ambitious and he could often been seen going up to Hampstead Heath with his band of helpers with him – each taking their turn to push the wheelchair and hand pump the bellows. There was a cinema very close by so it became a regular weekly outing for John to join all the OAPs for the matinee performance! He discovered one rather big drawback at the cinema – when the film became too absorbing or too exciting, the person hand pumping the bellows would either forget to pump or would pump extra quickly!

One day disaster struck! John was out with George and a few other friends – being hand pumped as usual when, without warning, the bellows came completely off the respirator. With no other means of maintaining breathing, for John it was literally a life and death situation. Disaster was however averted by George’s great presence of mind and strength – with his bare hands he stretched the bellows over the entire base of the respirator and they returned hell for leather back to the hospital. This event prompted John to make enquiries as to types of positive pressure ventilators available. What he wanted was one which would operate from a 12-volt car battery. No such thing existed. So he asked a manufacturer of respiratory equipment to make one for him. It cost John £55 – a great deal of money in those days (circa 1958), but this prototype 12 volt operated respirator has over the years not only proved invaluable to John, others were made (and are still used) for other people requiring portable ventilation.

It was around this time that John began to take a serious stock of his situation and his life. Things were looking up – in all, he reckoned (if one discounted such minor things like the fact that the only muscles he could move were above his chin!) life could be and WOULD be enjoyed. Here he was – a young man in his early twenties (and very handsome too we must add!) surrounded by numerous pretty nurses of 18+! For most of the time he was the only ‘resident’ in his four-bedded ward. Deciding that his room should have a more homelike atmosphere, he purchased a record player, hired a television set and used table lamps to provide softer lighting than the harsh ward lights. He also wanted a cocktail cabinet but the powers that be drew the line at this. Instead he purchased a bookcase and filled it with books. Over the months it was strange that the books would mysteriously disappear only to be replaced by the odd bottle or two and glasses and tumblers! Evenings would be spent in the company of friends – the night staff turning a co-operative blind eye to his activities – after all, it was all part of his rehabilitation!

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