Derek’s Story

- Posted by Author: CreativeAdviser in Category: Patients' Stories | 5 min read

My name is Derek Anthony and I will be 63 years of age next Birthday (2010). I joined the Royal Navy in 1966 and qualified as a submarine Officer in 1970. I spent some twenty years in Submarines and then did other jobs on the Naval Staff, was Captain of a Frigate and finally retired from the Royal Navy as a Rear Admiral in 2003. I then took up a job as the Clerk to a Livery Company in London, the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, and I retired from that job in November 2008. Apart from now enjoying the fruits of retirement I am currently the Chairman of a large Royal Navy Officers’ Charity (unpaid!), have been doing this for some six years, and intend to do it for about another two years or so. I married in 1970, and we have two grown up daughters and eight grandchildren.

The first obvious symptoms of me being ill portrayed themselves in October 2001. During that month I seemed to have a constant cold and flu like symptoms which whilst not incapacitating me made me feel pretty rotten. I had little appetite for food, slept poorly, and would wake in the night with heavy sweating. In early November I spent two weeks at home in bed (at that time we lived at Helensburgh in Scotland) but with little improvement in my cold and flu like symptoms I was eventually advised to go to the Accident and Emergency Department at the local hospital by the Base Naval Doctor. This was not a happy experience. Having waited in a corridor on a Porter’s Trolley for 6 hours, I was told by the very young Doctor that I should go home because there was no bed available in the hospital – at that stage I had not actually been examined! I was ready to go, but my wife insisted that I should be seen and that we were not going anywhere until I had been seen. Eventually after waiting in the Hospital A&E department all day I was admitted to a female Surgical Ward.

For the next two weeks I remained in this hospital with a high temperature and feeling thoroughly rotten. A bevy of Doctors came to examine me at different times. I was under the care of a consultant gastro-enterologist rather than a respiratory consultant. My wife was told that this was because my condition was considered chronic rather than acute. No diagnosis was given, but when my wife asked the specialist what he thought was wrong, he blurted out in an open passage way “It is probably lung cancer”.

Two weeks after admittance to this hospital I had a cardiac infarction. It occurred on a Sunday night in the toilet attached to the Ward. I do not know how I was found, but my heart had stopped when I was found and by good fortune the on duty doctor was an anaesthetist. After some three days in an ICU in that hospital I was transferred to Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow. Here I was put under the care of respiratory consultant and had a series of tests to try to make a diagnosis. By mid December no diagnosis had been made but my condition had improved at a snail’s pace. I was allowed home from Hospital for my wife’s birthday but a few hours before I was due back to hospital I developed an erratic heart beat. My wife took me back to Gartnavel Hospital immediately and on arrival I was transferred to the Cardiac Care Unit at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Again I made steady progress and on the morning of Christmas Eve the Respiratory Consultant came to see me and said that he thought that there was a 70% chance that I had Wegener’s granulomatosis. He explained what this was and what the treatment was and asked whether I would be content to start the treatment. I said that I would (70% was good enough for me!) and was discharged from hospital for Christmas with a very big bag full of medicaments. I was placed on a high dose of steroids, warfarin, methotrexate, and ramipril (an ace inhibitor). These medicines were the driving drugs to deal with the Wegener’s and also my immediate past heart history, but I also was given other medicaments to off-set the side effects of some of these drugs.

I spent a very happy Christmas at home in 2001 with all my family and from then on I got better and better. The dose rate of steroids was steadily reduced (now 5mg per day) and that of methotrexate adjusted for optimum effect (it has been at 17.5 mg per week for some seven years). I worked from home in the early months of 2002, and went back to work fully in April 2002.

Since that time I have had one recurrence of the Wegener’s in April 2004, but because I knew the symptoms and what to look for, a high dose of steroids with steady reduction over a week or so solved the problem.

Since retiring from the Royal Navy (and this had nothing to do with the Wegener’s), I have been under the care of Doctor David D’Cruz and his wonderful team in the Lupus Unit of St Thomas’ Hospital. I go for six monthly check-ups there. In between times I attend my local Surgery in Wye for two monthly blood tests for Liver Function (because of the drugs prescribed) and as required (about monthly) to check that the warfarin dose is giving the required blood consistency.

I hope that I am not tempting providence when I say that I enjoy a ‘normal’ life. I do all of the things that any other person of my age and circumstances would do, and enjoy my home life and my family to the full. I might add that the huge quantity of tests of all kinds that I had revealed some other medical defects. I had had gastric erosions in the past (1992) and so take medicaments to keep that under control, and I also have antiphospholipid syndrome (thickening of the blood) which is treated by warfarin. Finally I have Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency which personifies itself in ‘genetic’ emphysema. I take medicaments to help control that, and whilst my days of running 100 metres are well past, I can play golf and swim, and walk with ease.

As you will have seen, I had a very difficult start at the beginning of all this, but thanks to the wonderful skill of the consultants and doctors that have looked after me since December 2001 I have had the best possible chance that anyone could have given me. I am living proof of that, and long may it continue!