Paul Carter's Story

In December 2019, Helen Bennicke (48) posted a message written by her father on her Facebook page. Retired policeman Paul Carter, 75, “doesn’t do social media” but wanted to get his message out. Paul, of Appleton, Warrington, is in the latter stages of battling motor neurone disease, like his hero Doddie Weir, and relies on a motorised wheelchair to get around. It’s best in his own words; this is what he wrote:

A Christmas story.

“I must share this tale with others. First it will become clear if you know that I am aged 75 years and after having led an active life until eighteen months ago when I was diagnosed with the terminally fatal illness Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and became progressively disabled. In recent months I have used an electric powered wheelchair provided by the NHS, it performs like a sports car and has been the difference between being housebound or going out and socialising. I can even catch a bus in the chair and have noticed that people are considerate to me and many just wish to talk, even though my speech is quite seriously affected.

“Now I come to the point, on the afternoon of Monday 23rd December I set of from home to trundle ¾ of a mile to my local shops to purchase a small present for my wife. It quickly became apparent that something was amiss, with the wheelchair making strange noises and only moving at snail’s pace. After consulting a long-standing friend and neighbour, we decided that a wheel bearing had failed. 

“As the ode goes ‘Christmas is coming’, with more hope than conviction, my wife rang the local wheelchair workshops, and was advised that their engineers were fully booked for the rest of that day and the following day (Xmas Eve) until lunchtime. The first appointment available was 31st December – because their records showed that I had a backup manual wheelchair my case was not deemed an emergency. The backup chair only has small wheels and it is not self propelling even if I had strength in my arms, my wife of a similar age to me cannot manoeuvre the chair. 

“So here was my dilemma – it seemed that I faced seven days of being hoisted out of bed of a morning and lowered into a chair, where I would sit for twelve hours until the carer returned to put me back into bed for the night. I will not describe toileting requirements as there were none.

“First thing on Xmas Eve morning my wife rang the NHS wheelchair depot once more and made it quite clear to them what I was facing. Within an hour ‘a man in a van’, who turned out to be the head engineer and not normally working on outside calls, arrived at my house. 

“He set about repairs to the chair and explained to me that the fault was more serious than a wheel – it needed a new motor, which he was not even certain they had in stock. However, he was going to take my chair away and do his best. This was after 10am and I knew that the workshop was due to close at 12 for Xmas.  

“At 11.45am the man and van returned, a ‘modern day Santa Claus’, with a repaired wheelchair. He barely stayed long enough for us to thank him properly stating he had to get the van back across town before 12 when the workshop would be locked up.

“I tell this story of how what is my last Christmas has been saved not only as a tribute to a determined head engineer, but as a credit to the often-criticised National Health Service. Here is a man at the other end of the spectrum whose mind is focussed on caring for the patients. By his deeds not only my wife and I but all the family are eternally grateful that I was able to join them off site from home for Xmas day.”

This lovely story was seen by an old friend of Helen, who works as an editor for Manchester Evening News. Journalist Eugene Costello decided to approach newspapers to see whether he could place this heart-warming story. Eugene’s first port of call was the Sun, since he felt the widest possible audience deserved to hear Paul’s message (link here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10623757/hero-nhs-worker-wheelchair/).

 They ran the story and Eugene donated a sizeable fee to the Doddie Weir Foundation, for which we are delighted.

Says Eugene: “I was really moved by this story and the knowledge that what is likely to be Paul’s last Christmas was utterly transformed by one small, random act of kindness is surely what the true message of Christmas ought to be, whatever your creed or faith, even if like me you have none at all. Sometimes it is all too easy to forget that there are really good people going about their business in a quiet, non-attention-seeking way, and this kind soul’s modest act that had such a transformative outcome deserved to be singled out and praised.”

Last word goes to Helen:

“Doddie Weir is an inspiration for what he does for families like mine who are fighting this cruel and incurable illness.

“I hope that Doddie achieves his ambition of finding a cure for MND, against the odds.

My dad is a strong man, a father of two children who are incredibly proud of him and he has three granddaughters aged 12, 14 and 20, who adore him.

“He first became ill in January 2018 and was finally diagnosed last year. 

A retired police officer, he wrote a book about the history of policing in the town where he lives and the chief constable was at the launch last autumn.

“Yet he has faced his illness with fortitude, never complaining about the horrid deck of cards which he was dealt

“My mother, Jean, his wife of 55 years (on January 23) has been a tower of strength and resilience.

“Keep fighting it, Doddie!”

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