“That operation was life-changing. After years of struggling to do things, you have no idea what a release it is to have energy again. It gave me back my life. I even completed the Belfast marathon - by walking, not running.”
Since his surgery, Michael volunteers occasionally with a charity offering support to other sufferers of bowel disease – people facing surgery or adjusting to life with a stoma bag. What does he tell them?
“It can be a struggle to come to terms with major surgery. Stoma patients often worry about the effects of the operation, both physical and social, and what the reaction of other people will be. I try to provide reassurance that there are solutions to the problems and that life with a stoma can be good. Mostly, I just listen. It’s important to let people talk and it helps the confidence of the speaker when the listener understands the problem.”
Almost fourteen years after the operation that ended his nightmare illness, what has the experience taught him?
“It taught me how fragile life is. I’ve been fortunate to always have had food to eat, a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. I’m blessed to live in a country with a good National Health Service. If I’d been born in a poor country, I may have died early.
“It taught me what’s important in life too. I’ve never been the sort of person who wants a lot of stuff. I could spend money on a bigger car or the latest mobile phone, but I don’t need or want those things. That money could help a community that doesn’t have the things we take for granted.”
Michael has been supporting Christian Aid for many years. What sparked his interest in tackling poverty in the world’s poorest countries?
“When I was a wee boy, picky with my food and refusing to eat my vegetables, my mother would get frustrated with me and tell me that I was lucky to have food at all. She pointed me in the direction of the TV news of that time, the famine in Biafra. It was the first time I’d seen children with their bellies swollen with malnutrition.
“I was an adult by the time of the Ethiopian famine, watching Michael Buerk’s report for the BBC. I started full-time work in 1985 and decided to give regularly to environmental and development charities.”
Michael is a member of First Larne Presbyterian Church. What is it he likes about Christian Aid?
“I like the way Christian Aid works with local partner organisations to bring projects to their communities. It’s not top down - the westerner coming in and telling people what to do, as if we know better. They know the problems best because they live there, but our donations can help.
“Some people might think Christian Aid only does disaster relief after a hurricane or earthquake but there’s a lot more. They bring healthcare or clean water and sanitation to remote villages. They bring renewable solar energy to a community with no electricity supply, and help people adapt to climate change with drought-resistant crops.”