Somewhere over the Rainbow
Andy Abbott, local photographer and amazing My WiSH Charity supporter, has been with us since the day we began (and a little bit more). Here he tells us why he started supporting his local hospital back in 1994.
We have all stood outside and clapped and cheered, had huge admiration for Captain Tom, pensioners climbing a mountain up their stairs and children walking the walk on crutches. This terrible pandemic has focussed all our minds on our fabulous NHS like never before, a spotlight on the fantastic work and dedication of its entire staff.
Our local West Suffolk Hospital has, and always will, have a special place in my affections; my mother and father were pathologists working at hospitals in London and moved to Bury when my dad got the post of Chief Pathologist working at the old Hospital Road site. He moved the department to the new site with the grand title of Chief Medical Scientific Officer and ran the ever growing team for 25 years before retiring. I have many memories of walking from school and waiting for him to finish work and a lift home to Cockfield sat in his office surrounded by pickled samples!
However it was an event that was to change my life over twenty five years ago and the everlasting legacy it has left me that fills me with nothing but praise and respect for the work of health professionals, and my local West Suffolk Hospital. In particular I have a special affinity with the paediatric wards and services that have seen more than their fair share of Abbott offspring over the past couple of decades. It all started when my daughter Katie fell off a gate at the stables where her mum worked at the tender age of just two years and a month back in October 1992. She suffered a spiral fracture of the right femur and spent the next seven weeks with her legs in traction at right angles to her body, hugely traumatic for one so young and her parents. Her only respite from the ward was to be wheeled in her bed to the small playroom down the corridor, literally just room for her bed and nothing else. This persuaded me I must do something to thank the staff for her care and do something to improve the facilities for tiny people so very rashly I announced to play specialist June Charlick (later MBE) that I would run a marathon to raise money for a new bigger playroom. So, after fantastic encouragement from the St Edmund Pacers I ran the Nutrasweet 13th London Marathon in 1994 and with huge local support raised over £4,600. This effort triggered a spark that would ignite a massive fund raising effort to provide £1 million to provide a “Child’s World” new paediatric unit at the West Suffolk Hospital and a year later the Rainbow Appeal was launched. For the next five years Freddie Frog would inspire hundreds to dig deep and tackle challenges for what was then a very significant amount of money, the first patients were admitted onto the ward in December 1999. With the West Suffolk Hospital Charity and Rainbow Appeal my passion I ran another London (1997), New York (1999) and then Dublin (2002) marathons and my total raised reached around £10,000.
But the story for me didn’t end there!. Seven years after Katie fractured her right femur I was called to the Haberden rugby ground one afternoon to find the emergency services attending my twelve year old son Tim, lying in agony on the ground with – you would never believe it – a fractured left femur. Again seven weeks in traction on the new Rainbow Ward and again I would be grateful for the wonderful attention and care from paediatric staff.
And still the book was not closed – in 2010 thanks to the diligence of a GP at the local Mount Farm Surgery, and staff at the West Suffolk and Addenbrooke’s Hospitals they identified an extremely rare malignant germ cell tumour in my twenty month old son Archie. This yolk sac tumour was the first of its type ever seen at Bury St Edmunds and he was the youngest ever treated for the condition at Cambridge. Now I have worked as a press photographer in the local media since I was 17 years old and on numerous occasions covered heart rending stories of people fighting cancer but when it happens to you it is an absolute bombshell out of the blue and you appreciate all the anguish families go through. This is where the NHS is at its streamlined best, visit to the doctors on Monday, scan at the WSH on Tuesday, called back to the doctors at 5pm on Thursday with the devastating sentence thrown at us that our child had a form of cancer and a consultant was waiting for us immediately at hospital. Well that short journey from Moreton hall to Hardwick Lane I will never forget and the heart rending experience of our little boy enduring blood tests and examinations through the evening. It was a whirlwind of NHS excellence, the next day we were at Addenbrooke’s early in the morning and two weeks later after many scans and blood tests Archie was operated on to remove the tumour.
So for me that Rainbow Appeal launch all those years ago will always be a special and memorable time. It inspired me to new challenging endeavours and since then I have continued to be grateful for the attention, facilities and services offered by the children’s wards at Bury and Cambridge. I am sure I speak for the hundreds of patients in need of their care every year and when all seems terrible and devastating there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. When thoughts of would Katie or Tim be the same again after their broken femurs were in my brain at the time and all seems dreadful fast forward. Katie went on to play football for West Suffolk, set a County long jump record and my proudest moment was watching her captain the Bristol University ladies rugby team in the annual Varsity match. Tim understandably not happy playing rugby but went on to play football and took part in iron man challenges around the country before moving to Canada. And my little Archie had to endure regular blood tests and scans and was in remission for five years but given the all clear and now is a cheeky chappie at King Edward School.
Now the MyWiSH Charity is my charity of choice and anytime my photographic skills could be of benefit I am gladly available, as Chairman of the Southgate Community Partnership I have organised six annual Valentine’s Ball functions at the Southgate Community Centre that have donated hundreds of pounds to date. The MyWiSH fund-raising team there are the most amazing, dedicated and enthusiastic people and their achievements are just amazing.