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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The heroism of hostages imprisoned for several years is universally acclaimed, but there are other types of prisoner whose struggle to be free and remain human against enormous odds is just as difficult.

One such person is John Prestwich, who was ‘imprisoned’ in an iron lung for seven years when he was on the threshold of life, at the age of 17, after a polio attack and forced to stay in hospital for 16 years virtually never going out. Although totally paralysed from the chin down and entirely dependent for 24 hours a day on a ventilator to keep him alive, through his enormous self-will and the support and love of Maggie whom he married in 1971, he has not only come out into the real world but has made a real impression on it.

And now the world has shown its recognition of his indomitable spirit. He was one of the 13 people who received Men of the Year awards for 1991. Organised by RADAR and sponsored by the Leeds Building Society, the presentations were made at a special luncheon at London’s Hilton Hotel. The last sentence of his citation is the most worthwhile and significant reason for his award – ‘His positive attitude has been a source of inspiration world-wide to both disabled and able-bodied people’. “Having known him for 30 years and been with him for 160 out of the 168 hours in every week since our marriage, that sentence sums up his influence to a T,” said Maggie. She spoke of the courage it took John to go out for the first time after years in hospital and be subject to the public gaze. “He has a positive out-going attitude. He has the gift of the gab and can put people immediately at their ease”. John tries to encourage people to change their disparaging or patronising attitude towards disabled people. “I have always believed that real disability is lack of communication. I cannot move at all but I can sit here and talk and after a while you may well forget my disability,” he said.

John was a Merchant Navy seaman when, on his 17th birthday he had a severe attack of polio. He remained in an iron lung at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead for seven years. Not being eligible for any benefits, pension or compensation, he was unable to pay for the 24 hour-a-day care he needs and was forced to stay in hospital. In 1971 he married Maggie, whom he had met 11 years earlier when she was an occupational therapist at the Royal Free. They moved into their own bungalow in a village in S.W. Hertfordshire, with Maggie providing the full-time care he needed. “I don’t think people realise how much hard work there is for Maggie in caring for me. It saddens me that people do not recognise that Maggie could be dead on her feet and all they will want to know is ‘How is John?’ ”

Now aged 53, he leads a full and active life travelling 10.000 miles a year in his specially adapted vehicle with Maggie in the driving seat. And they have been involved in raising thousands of pounds for various charities, starting with an emergency service for people on ventilators, which John helped to set up. Locally he is busy at present helping to raise money for a young girl in their village who is severely disabled and can’t move or speak. Aware of the enormous importance of being able to communicate, he wants her to have a speech synthesiser.

Among the other 12 good men and true who won the awards were England cricket captain. Graham Gooch, Sir Peter de la Billiere and newscaster, John Simpson. “It is a great honour to be included with such a distinguished group of people,” said John.



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