Published 28 May 2024     More in

When Martin Gannon was admitted to hospital after falling seriously ill last Christmas, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever leave.

But just three months later, the 64-year-old was walking through the cobbled streets of Zagreb with old friends and enjoying a glass or two of red wine.

Martin had been determined to visit the city he once called home and was able with support from the St Christopher’s rehabilitation team, who worked with him in a series of sessions in the hospice gym.

Martin was given a terminal prognosis in May 2019 after he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and plasmacytomas. This has severely weakened his immune system so when he caught an infection in December 2023, he subsequently caught pneumonia.

After three weeks in hospital, he was discharged and re-referred to St Christopher’s to help him regain some of his strength.

“When I was in hospital, I couldn’t walk so I’ve been going into the gym and they’ve been working with me ever since to get my muscles sorted and strengthened.”

For someone who has spent a large portion of his life living abroad, the prospect of not travelling to Zagreb would have been difficult for him to accept.

Born in South London, Martin grew up in the New Zealand bush and in the 1990s was working in war-torn Bosnia. He’s also had time in Fiji, Hawaii and Borneo and others.

 “I regard the whole of Croatia as my second, or even my first home,” says Martin. “I’ve spent a lot of time in Jelsa/Starigrad on the island of Hvar, which is where my parents retired to from Beckenham.

“But Zagreb is one of my favourite cities in Europe. I’ve been going there since the 80s and seen some wonderful changes. It was absolutely beautiful to go back,” he adds. “The temperature was 24 degrees and there were blue skies every single day.”

All the walking, however, did take a bit of a toll.

 “Even though we did all the hard work here with the physios, my feet swelled up and so I couldn’t get around as much as I’d have liked,” Martin says.

What came in handy, he adds, was a camping stool that he’d taken along with him for quick rests in between visiting friends.

The welfare team were instrumental in helping him secure a studio flat in Elmers End and also ensured he was receiving all the benefits he was entitled to.

“I’ve been a nurse, worked at Leicester Square cinema, worked for airlines and been a holiday rep. I’m just not the type of person who could go unemployed,” Martin says. “But after I was diagnosed I had to learn this whole system to make sure I was getting the right benefits. I couldn’t believe the amount of mistakes the welfare team found.

It was shocking, a real nightmare. But thankfully, St Christopher’s sorted absolutely everything because it would have been a very difficult time if they haven’t been corrected.”

Martin Gannon

Meanwhile the hospice’s clinical staff were initially involved in helping bring his pain under control and he’s also made use of the hairdressing service at the hospice to keep himself looking sharp.

Following his trip to Zagreb, Martin was soon back at St Christopher’s for a haircut and a meeting with the welfare team. He proudly shows photographs from the trip to friends in the Anniversary Centre that he’s made during his visits.

“I’m just so happy my consultant let me go,” he said. “And when I came back my blood readings were fantastic. The nurses couldn’t believe it. I told them it’s the Mediterranean diet, you know, it’s all organic,” he says, adding with a smile “fantastic.”

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