Get back to work or people will die, says paralysed man who ended up in intensive care because he couldn’t afford to heat his bungalow

A man living with life-changing injuries has made a stark plea to Northern Ireland politicians to return to work after he nearly died from infections caught in his frozen home.

Derry’s ean Friel has asked when the promised £400 energy rebate will be delivered to help people in Northern Ireland who desperately need it, like him.

In May 2016, Friel was paralyzed from the chest down. He spent a month in a coma Royal Victoria Hospitaltwo months in a spinal ward and another three months in rehab at Musgrave Park Hospital.

He has two titanium rods with studs running through his spine, titanium plates with studs running through his sternum, and a computerized pump under the skin of his abdomen that constantly feeds a drug into his spinal fluid.

Due to his condition, he is considered ‘highly vulnerable’ and is susceptible to infection.

Last month, he was admitted to the hospital after contracting pneumonia and sepsis.

His gas bill for the year totaled £2,038 to heat a bungalow, and that was with him using it sparingly.

Mr. Friel was admitted to the hospital on October 2 and spent two days in a side room of the emergency department before being transferred to a ward and then to the Intensive Care Unit.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: “I had pneumonia, a urinary tract infection, which developed into sepsis, and low oxygen levels and low sodium levels, and the doctors said I was delusional.

“I have been putting on extra layers of clothing around the house to save money. [turning on the heating] and the doctors have attributed a large part of the pneumonia to my living in a cold house.


Sean at home with his partner Sharon, who flew in from Scotland to be by his side (Photo: Martin McKeown)

“I want to know, where is that £400 discount? I think the ‘Don’t UP’ should be stripped of all their salaries and funds because they don’t hold their seats in what is supposed to be their democratic government.

“When I was in the ICU, the beds were full. I saw firsthand how our health service is stretched beyond capacity and workers are under great pressure.

“I am a supporter of the NHS. I was hesitant to ask for help because I didn’t want to stress them out further.

“But my sister Erin, who has been around it all, saw that I was lethargic and unable to remember things and insisted that I go to the hospital.

“I was there for 10 days in total. I was talking to the NHS nurses – they are exhausted working 12 hour shifts.

“Juggling supporting their families and [their] social life is non-existent.

“They couldn’t move me from the ICU to a ward because there wasn’t a free bed for me.

I feel lucky to be alive and lucky that those around me were there to help.”

His partner, Sharon Moir, flew in from Scotland and their daughter, Sadie, from the US to be at his bedside because doctors “thought I was dying”.

Ms Moir said it was “touch and go” if he would survive, as Sean had to be sedated for a few days while health workers tried to balance his sodium levels.

“The doctors said they arrived just in time,” he added.

Mr. Friel is passionate that more needs to be done to support people with disabilities, including investing in wheelchair accessible housing and free bus fares, as he only gets 50% off right now.

Disability Action Northern Ireland has called on all politicians to take “urgent action” to tackle the cost of living emergency.

Research by Disability Action shows that eight out of 10 disabled people do not have enough money to afford a decent life.

Nuala Toman, chief policy officer at Disability Action, said: “Disabled people face impossible choices between operating life-saving machinery and eating. This is a very dangerous routine.

“We are concerned that disabled people will die this winter without intervention.

“We need a sustainable government. There is no time to lose.

“Now is the time for collective leadership, generosity of spirit, negotiation and solutions that work for people with disabilities.

“Months ago we needed sustainable institutions; time is running out.”

The DUP has been contacted for comment.

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