After five months fighting for life in a Cuban hospital bed, Keith Rochester is finally back home on Wearside.
The 41-year-old from Houghton was hospitalised in January after taking ill with pancreatitis, which sparked a catalogue of health problems.
With wife Sharon, 43, by his side, Keith has battled through being on a life support ventilator, a collapsed lung and numerous surgeries.
Though he still sufferers daily pain and discomfort, Keith say it’s been a relief to finally come home from the Caribbean.
“It’s been 20 weeks of hell with mild recuperation, but I’m relieved to finally be home,” he said. “I’ve dropped from 12.5 stone to just over nine stone and I’m having to see a district nurse to treat a bed sore which is eating into the skin. Apart from when I’m asleep, I’m in constant pain and discomfort, but I’m taking each day as it comes.
“I’m able to walk again now which was a massive struggle.”
Now he’s back in the North East, Keith will be cared for by a pancreatic specialist at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.
Keith said: “It’s something I’ll have to keep an eye on for the rest of my life, but that will mostly be down to diet and not over doing things.”
Keith’s plight has touched the hearts of scores of Wearsiders, with more than £3,300 being raised through a fundraising page to help towards the cost of his care.
Sharon, who suffers with ME, said: “The relief to be home after what has been an immensely stressful ordeal is unreal. The doctors say it will take Keith the same amount of time he’s been ill to get back to some sense of normality again.
“As well as dealing with Keith’s illness, there’s been so much else to deal with, such as the cost of hotels, bills, dealing with doctors who speak a foreign language. The insurance is taking months to sort out and is on going.
“We had to cover all my costs to stay with Keith and without everyone’s help it would have been a major struggle for me to remain with him. It’s difficult to put into words what we’ve been through.
“The insurance doctor said he’s repatriated 12,500 Brits and that Keith is in the top 10 of people who’ve been out of the country the longest.
“The support we’ve had, and Facebook, is what’s kept me going. The Pancreas North Group and people’s messages have meant so much in all of this.
She added: “The doctors in Cuba literally saved Keith’s life, we owe them everything.”
Keith’s ordeal was another cruel blow for his family. His brother, Christopher Rochester, died after a fall from a balcony in Rhodes in 2000. His body was flown back with a kidney missing and since then parents, Pam and step dad George Cummings from Chester-le-Street, have been in a battle with the Greek authorities over the missing organ.
•To donate to Keith’s fund visit https://www.gofundme.com/hdyqrxpw