AS Ballycastle man Kevin McAuley walked into the Dalriada Hospital last Thursday afternoon, a stranger would never have known that only months ago the local photographer thought he would be facing life in a wheelchair.
Kevin, who is well known across the borough and beyond, was at the 'Dal' to hand over a cheque for £9,500 after he held a fundraising coffee morning to thank the staff for their outstanding care during his six week stay.
Back in February, Kevin, wife Donna and son Steven were facing their biggest fears after he contracted blood poisoning – at one point they were preparing for the worst.
Kevin firmly believes that the late Consultant Cardiologist Dr Charles Jack and his team of doctors saved his life.
Speaking to The Chronicle Kevin said: “I spent a long number of weeks in the Causeway Hospital where I know they saved my life. Then I was moved closer to home, to The Dalriada Hospital where they had to teach me to walk all over again. It was something I never thought I would ever do. I just can't explain how grateful I am to the staff at the Dal. Words will never be enough. That's one of the reasons I wanted to hold the fundraiser, I needed to show my appreciation in more than just words.”
So on Saturday August 11, Ballycastle Presbyterian Church Hall was packed to capacity as people came from all across the province to attend the coffee morning. Kevin opened a JustGiving page for those who couldn't make the event and after he had tallied up his donations, he realised he'd be handing over a staggering 9,500 thanks from the communiy!
Sitting in the Dal on Thursday afternoon, it's easy to see the respect Kevin has for Ward Sister Bridget O'Neill and Deputy Ward Sister Jane Leighton. They're also delighted to see the amateur radio enthusiast back to full health.
Kevin, 54, said: “I think it's essential that the wider community know, when I came here I could barely walk, rehabilitation was my big focus when I was brought through those doors and the physio I received here was second to none.
“The support team is outstanding. It's not just about the physio but the people that work here put you in the right frame of mind and make you WANT to do the work. You're pushed in a gentle way that makes it work.”
Kevin, who described the Dal as a 'home from home' said he had as long a spell as anyone would ever want in hospital and knew first-hand that Dalriada is second to none.
He added: “Hotels could learn a lot about how to treat people from the staff at the Dal. The thing that stood out for me the most was the team cohesion. The staff treat the ward sister with respect and that respect is mutual. It's throughout the hospital, every member of staff is appreciated for what they do, everyone is treated the same and that's what makes them outstanding. Great leadership comes from the top, respect goes both ways and it is obvious here.”
Kevin recalled the words of the late Dr Charles Jack, he said: “I remember him sitting at my bedside one afternoon and he told me the most important people in the hospital were the cleaners, he said without them doctors couldn't do business – and he was right.”
Although Kevin received excellent care in the Causeway Hospital also, he explained why he held the coffee morning for the Dal.
He said: “Dalriada is a community hospital, not an acute hospital, they work within a tight budget and I wanted to be able to help in some small way.”
And help is exactly what he will do. As I speak to the Ward Sister and Deputy Ward Sister, it becomes clear that a lot of thought has went into what the funds will be spent on.
Ward Sister Bridget explained how they have a current day room that they would like to refurbish in a vintage style for their dementia patients, but they have lots of ideas still to be finalised. Deputy Ward Sister Jane said: “The money is worth so much more than the cash value – that's fantastic in its own right- but this is such a morale boost for the staff. We will be able to send them on more training courses in both dementia and rehabilitation. Recent training has made the world of difference to the care of patients in the unit.
“We'll be able to purchase more orthopaedic chairs as they get quite worn out in a hospital very quickly.
“But we'll also be able to support the dementia patients better, maybe new games so the staff can occupy the patients in the day room. We do a lot of work minimising falls and we'll be able to look at more equipment.”
Pamela Craig, Assistant Director NHSCT, was also present for the cheque presentation. Pamela said: “Today is World Quality Day and today of all days it's lovely to celebrate patient recognition of the quality of nurses and medical carers here in the Dalriada.
“I have no doubt that the magnificent amount of money handed over today will be put to great use for the benefit of the patients, we're very grateful to Kevin and his family for their very generous fundraiser.”
And months after his release from Dalriada Hospital, anyone who knows Kevin can testify that his work ethic remains the same! In the words of his long-time friend and fellow photographer Lyle McMullan - “Kevin has made a remarkable comeback. He has an amazing capacity for work given the fact that he almost passed away, I'd describe him as a phenomenon!”