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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An article written in 1980
Monday November 24th 1980 is a very special day for John Prestwich for not only is it his 42nd birthday, it will also be the 25th anniversary of an incident which, within a period of 2-3 days, completely changed the course of his life.

John was an only child, born in Oldham, Lancashire, and at an early age he moved with his parents to the south coast of England where he was to spend his childhood and adolescence. It was here that he acquired his great love for the sea, and as a young lad he could be seen scampering down to the shore straight after school to sail his small boat along the coast. It therefore came as no surprise to his friends to learn that at the age of 14 he was to enter Naval College. Two years later, on his 16th birthday, he set sail from Liverpool as a deck boy in the Merchant Navy to “see the world”. Then exactly one year later – on his 3rd trip and during the week of his 17th birthday, it all suddenly came to a devastating end. Whilst his ship was docked at Corpus Christi, Texas, USA, he was taken seriously ill with poliomyelitis and from that day onwards he was never able to move again – he was totally paralysed below his chin and totally dependent on a ventilator to keep him alive. For several months he remained, desperately ill, in an iron lung at the Memorial Hospital, unable to move and unable to breathe. His mother flew over from England to be with him, but was only able to do so after experiencing a great deal of frustration caused by government ‘red tape’. It was only through the eventual intervention of the Daily Mirror newspaper that she was able to fly out to be with her son. Although totally inexperienced in the nursing field, the shortage of nursing staff in the hospital was so severe that day after day she would take the afternoon shift to nurse him.

By March 1956 John’s condition had stabilised enough for him to return to England, but he was still very ill. There was a problem with flying him back to the UK – commercial aircraft would not take him as they didn’t allow the transportation of the necessary batteries that were needed to keep the iron lung operating. John’s mother had been befriended by an American lady who, when she heard of the problem said not to worry – she had contacts in ‘high places’. Thus it was soon arranged for the American Airforce to fly John to Heathrow Airport, London. From there he was taken to the Fever Unit at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead – the nearest unit to his parents’ home which was now in London. He remained very ill for the first two years and was so thin that he was covered back and front with pressure sores.

After the first two years had passed he was gradually able to take an interest in life again. He was still totally and completely paralysed below his chin and in constant need of the iron lung to maintain his breathing. When the iron lung was opened for nursing purposes, he learnt to use positive pressure through a mouthpiece connected to a pump to maintain his breathing – air was literally pushed intermittently into his lungs. Daily his paralysed limbs would be exercised by a physiotherapist and it was during one of these sessions that he was to learn of the full extent of his fate. No-one had ever told him that his paralysis was permanent and that he would never move again or breathe independently, so one day he asked the physiotherapist which part of him would start moving first when recovery took place. The look of horror on her face made him realise that he had embarrassed her beyond words and he wondered how he could have been so stupid to ask and not to realise his fate. The physiotherapist quickly made an excuse to finish his treatment and the subject was never mentioned - by anyone – ever again.

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