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A Significant Medical History

If I can leave the ward knowing I've made one wee boy or girl smile, that's job done and I'll go home at night happy


JOHN O'BYRNE is a very special volunteer at Yorkhill. But he is also someone who has overcome adversity to help others. SHEILA HAMILTON meets one of the many nominations pouring in for the NHS Diamond Awards, sponsored by the Evening Times and Radio Clyde.

He's the Pied Piper of Yorkhill. The young patients love it when John O'Byrne appears in the wards to take them to the movies because they know they're in for a good laugh.

John is in a wheelchair, but he has never been one to feel sorry for himself and today, he is one of the team of cheerful volunteers of all ages escorting young patients to and from the hospital's cinema.

MediCinema, which is run by a private charity, is one of only two in Britain and the films, which are all new releases, are shown on a Monday and Thursday.

"The kids might not get the chance to get to the cinema outside, but they are able to say to their friends they have seen a particular film as well," says John.

He has a big personality and you can't be in his company for long without finding out about his comical sense of humour.

"If it wasn't for bad luck, I don't think I'd have any luck at all," he says, grinning.

Little wonder the youngsters ask specially for him and shriek ‘John!’ when he wheels himself into the wards.

He admits he gets a lot out of it too. "It's good to think I must have made an impression," he says modestly.

"I'm physically not fit enough to do a nine-to-five job, but a couple of days in here is perfect.

"They didn't have anything like the MediCinema when I was here and it's a fantastic idea and something that should have been done a long time ago because I'm sure I would have gone to it."

John, 28, who is from Mosspark and who lives with his mum, Marion, and sister, Siobhan, is an inspiration to everyone he comes across.

No-one knows better than him what it's like to spend long months in hospital because throughout his childhood, Yorkhill was his second home.

But he certainly doesn't let his disability hold him back.

"You have to try your best to just get on with life," he shrugs. "I go on holiday with my pals. All the places someone my age should be going to.

"Obviously, I've got to be a bit more careful than anybody else, but I've been to Cyprus a few times, Magaluf, Ibiza, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, America.

"I play snooker in tournaments. Go to the football with pals. Go clubbing. All the normal things," he says breezily.

"I've got good friends and probably too good a social life, that's for sure.

"There's no point in sitting thinking how someone else can do something and I can't.

"People see someone in a wheelchair and automatically think they've never had a life.

"But it's not like that with me, that's for sure.

"I'll have enough time for feeling sorry for myself when I'm older, but not now."

John has lost count of the number of bone dislocations and breaks he has suffered since childhood.

"Otherwise my health is fine," he says.

"Touch wood, I've not had a fracture for a long while. Sore back, but who doesn't? And long may that continue.

"It's just a case of being more careful and not taking as many risks as I used to when I was younger. You learn by your mistakes.

"I just wanted to be like everybody else.

"If someone had a ball, I would think why can't I play football? I've ended up here a few times because of that."

Eventually, a wheelchair seemed the safer option.

"I've given up the ghost in walking. Once you've broken as many bones as I have, you get a bit wary. But I can do most things everybody else does," he says firmly, although he admits cheekily, "sometimes, I use it to my advantage to get out of doing things at home, I'll say ‘oh, my back' if I'm asked to tidy my room....as you do."

John has been working at Glasgow Royal Hospital for Sick Children for seven months and decided to volunteer because he wanted to give something back.

"They were so good with me whenever I hurt myself and I just feel I can be of some use.

"There are patients on wards in wheelchairs and I think they can relate to me better too.

John is a Celtic fan ("Big time.") and he finds that football is always a good icebreaker.

He often visits Yorkhill on a Friday too. "That's to play with the younger children on the wards or the older ones on the PlayStation.

"Most of the volunteers who work on the wards are older and wouldn't know how to sit down and play a PlayStation or talk about football or play Nintendo Wii," he says grinning.

"And I can do that standing on my head. It's just basically doing what I do with most of my friends anyway.

"Some of the children are smaller than me and they'll hold on to the back of my chair while I'll take them round the ward. It takes their minds off what's happening to them and that's what it's all about. I don't do requests, though.

"Sometimes, you get knackered like everybody else because it's a big hospital, but I can push myself around Yorkhill all day."

"John is a huge asset," says NHS nursing director Eunice Muir.

"He speaks to patients with a very real understanding and the contribution he makes to Yorkhill is enormous. He is really quite motivational because he encourages people.

"MediCinema asked him to do more sessions just because he is so good at the job."

"John is now one of our longest-serving volunteers," says Sheila Hay Pacifico, MediCinema's manager.

"He's great fun and a pleasure to work with and has built a nice relationship with the other volunteers, as well as the children on the wards.

"I think it's inspiring for the children themselves to see John helping out. I know I can totally depend on him.

"It's not just a case of bringing the patients down from the wards. It's taking care of them in any circumstances that might crop up including evacuation.

"We now have a core team of about 20 and the more volunteers we have, the more patients we can bring down.

John, however, would rather shun the praise. "I don't want to be patted on the back for doing something like this," he insists.

"If anyone deserves that, it would be the nurses here.

"They are absolutely in a different class and I can't speak highly enough of them.

"Obviously, even for me, you have to be thick-skinned to work in a children's hospital.

"But if I can leave that ward, knowing I've made one wee boy or girl smile, that's the job done as far as I'm concerned and I'll go home at night happy."


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John leads Yorkhill patients Shaun McDougall, 12, from Clydebank, and Alexis Martin, 7, from Irvine, to the MediCinema, below

In the MediCinema