Last week, Gary Caldwell, Kevin Nicholson, David Perkins and club captain Pierce Sweeney had the honour of meeting inspirational young City fan James Clarke at the Mardon Neuro-Rehabilitation Centre.
James, 23, is in recovery after life-changing 16-hour surgery to remove a brain tumour that was found after a routine trip to the GP following severe headaches.
The club were first made aware of James' story thanks to his uncle, Rob Bidder, who is a lifelong City fan and season ticket holder. Gary, his staff and the players were bowled over by James' story and decided to pay him a visit at the ward in RD&E.
James had been an apprentice at Porsche in Marsh Barton after leaving school at 16 and qualified as a mechanic earlier this year, despite the pandemic interefering with his training and assessments.
However, after headaches and hearing loss began to affect his life, James was dealt an incredibly harsh blow as he was quickly rushed to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth for an urgent consultation and operation. After then testing positive for Covid-19, he was unable to receive any support in person from family - though James took this in his stride with a positive can do attitude.
James has been in Mardon since 31 July and has made huge progress, with James now able to complete simple tasks such as feeding and dressing himself, speech improvement and is now starting to regain use of his limbs, which he initially lost all use of.
Rob shared the story with the team in the hope that there is a certain amount of inspiration everyone can take from hearing about James’s attitude, and that you don’t give in and keep working on yourself as you never know what you can achieve.
Rob has written to the club to thank Gary and co. for their time visiting James and has asked us to share the story of the day:
"I just wanted to thank you for helping set this up. We were visited by Gary, Kev, Pierce, and David and they were absolutely terrific. They spent about 45 minutes with us and probably would have spent longer if they hadn’t been dismissed by James. He had previously dismissed a nurse in comical fashion which had everyone in stitches, so the chaps weren’t offended. He has an amazing spirit and personality which you could see soon was infectious with the visitors.
"James wasn’t shy at all and was soon cracking jokes with them, and it could have been just a bunch of friends hanging out in the pub telling jokes and stories. I answered questions quietly with Gary and Sweens, letting them know of some of the challenges and the progress that James has been making, whereas the conversation with James was very much about what he was doing and chatting about football and rugby. James mentioned how he’d been taken to a local coffee shop by the staff and had seen one of the Chiefs players and within a couple of minutes had managed to get himself invited as a guest to an upcoming match at Sandy Park.
"There were discussions about the upcoming cup match and the ban that Gary was facing for the game, which again brought about much humour. The staff kindly presented him with a signed ball, a signed picture, and a shirt with his name and age on. This was incredibly kind and thoughtful. Here are a couple of pictures Mardon took, which you have permission to use in social media etc.
"After spending time in his room, James took everyone to the dining room as it was a mealtime, and introduced them to the other patients. As soon as this had been done, James was then organising autographs for some other Mardon staff who couldn’t attend with his primary focus being what he could do for someone else.
"I think the whole experience was magical from a selfish point of view, seeing the effect of the visit on James and that for a time he felt normal again. In a visit I made to James on Saturday where we relived the evening, he told me the best part of this was talking to new people (and different faces when you’ve been recovering for so long in a restricted environment) and just talking about normal stuff. He didn’t have to talk to anyone about why he’d been poorly, or the treatment he’d been undergoing. He did mention that he did have to go to Derriford for an MRI (yesterday) but quickly followed it with a green and white pot chant that made them all laugh.
"Kev was keen to talk to James about the fundraising ideas, and suggested that when James felt a little better they would be open to helping with a 5-a-side match with friends donating to take part in the game, and with James and guests being able to watch. This is an incredibly kind offer and is something we’d like to undertake in the future once James feels up to it. They were also keen to maintain contact and to be kept updated with James’s progress, with a view to him coming up the park for a match. I look forward to sharing more positive news from James with you.
"Please pass on my most sincere thanks for getting these special people to take time out of their day to really enhance someone else’s life. This is an experience we won’t forget, and these gentlemen will always have my support whether they are part of City or not in their future careers. I will be eternally grateful, and will be cheering them louder than ever with my support."
Manager Gary Caldwell added: "It was amazing to meet James. I spoke to the players about it as soon as I got the email and spoke about how our performances and matches can be inspirational for fans, but he has shown us inspiration. His self-belief on his recovery was incredible and to see what he has been through and how he is fighting back was a real inspiration to us."