Family fundraising for electric wheelchair for son paralyzed by mosquito bite

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The family of a man who was left paralyzed from the neck down by a mosquito bite are asking for help to pay for a new electric wheelchair. John Barber, a University of Edinburgh graduate and then communications officer, was traveling in Thailand and Laos with a friend in 2015 when he was bitten by a mosquito just 12 days before he was set to fly to Australia.

John, now 31, had traveled by bike from Laos to Chiang Mai. After one day in the northern Thai city he fell ill with headaches, which only continued to worsen.

The next morning, his condition had significantly deteriorated and he was taken to hospital by the manager of the hostel where he was staying. Upon his admission of him, John’s parents in Glossop received the call that the then 24-year-old had fallen ill with what they believed to be some form of infection, which his mum Kathy Miller says was “killing his brain of him.”

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They booked flights out to Chiang Mai that day, but just 24 hours after his admission John had slipped into a coma. The 67-year-old told Derbyshire Live: “We were able to speak to John on the phone, [before they flew out] but he was obviously on his way down at that point. After contracting the virus, John has been left largely paralyzed from the neck down, and unable to talk.

“It was a shock, so we were literally taking it a day at a time, not even, more like an hour at a time…John’s always kept positive, because unless you keep positive, you give up don’t you? He’s happy in himself, he’s positive and smiling, at the moment he’s unable to talk so we’re using other methods of communication and we’re working on that with therapy. breathe himself partly but not fully.

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“I think the hard thing for John, having been a really sporty and sociable person, is not being able to speak. Not being able to speak back in conversation is horrendous.”

John spent a month in Bangkok before being in a stable enough condition to take a medical flight home, and on his arrival back in the UK he spent 11 months in hospital in Sheffield. His parents wanted nothing more than to bring John home, but due to the need to find a carer and the pandemic, he spent some time in residential care homes before returning to his parents’ house on March 8, 2021.

Mrs Miller said: “I can’t put into words how fabulous it was to get John through the door. Nobody wants to be anywhere else other than home.

“At the moment he’s got his own extension, so he’s got his independence but also his support workers, and he’s also linked to the house so he’s got the best of both worlds. He’s also got his own disability van outside so he can come and go as he wants with his support workers.”

The family received some disability funding for the extension. Now John’s family are fundraising for an electric-powered wheelchair that they and their carers can control. They feel the new chair will help John gain even more independence in the hilly part of Derbyshire where they live.

His mum said: “I think when a tragedy happens, and you’re a bit older, you might have a pension or a little bit more behind you or some savings. I’m not saying it’s by any means any easier. John did have some savings, but they’ve all gone on the extension, and I sold our mobile caravan home too.

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“The NHS only provide electric-powered wheelchairs for people who can control it themselves. To have the power chair, again I just can’t put into words what a difference it will make to John. Pushing the chair is hard going. John is six feet tall and he’s always been sporty.

“It will completely transform his life and that’s probably an understatement to be fair. To be able to control John’s chair not only when going up hills but down hills too will really improve his accessibility because his support worker, or whoever is with him, won ‘t have to worry about inclines anymore.

“It’s about choices – and about not feeling disabled and feeling free,” she added. The full cost is £8,835 including all attachments. You can read more about John’s story and donate to his GoFundMe page here.



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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