At 16, Dan Hewitt was at a time in his life when he should have been going out with friends, playing sports, thinking of future careers, college, instead he lay hooked up to a machine undergoing intensive Chemotherapy for Acute Lymphatic Leukaemia.
Dan, now 20, is the first Young Hero to move into Impact accommodation.
Here’s his story.
Dan had just turned 16 years old when he decided he wanted to follow the family trade and become a Hairdresser in his home town of Barnsley. He began studying at college and enjoyed the prospect of his future career however just 2 weeks into the course, his whole life changed forever.
Dan, who was living with his grandad at the time; began feeling unwell over the course of a couple of days, It began with nausea, vomiting and profuse sweating, often waking in the morning to sweat soaked bed linen.
One particular night, he lay curled up on his bed seething in pain. His grandad began to panic and called Dan’s mum to go to the house immediately.
He was taken to an emergency doctor where he nearly passed out and according to his mum ‘his face turned gray’.
Dan recalls how the next few days became a blur, clouded by the morphine, “its like I blanked out, I just can’t remember a thing” he says.
He was immediately taken to Barnsley Hospital but later transferred to Sheffield where he would stay.
Over the next few days, Dan’s lung collapsed and he was moved to a high dependency ward where he underwent treatment for 6 weeks in the form of a ventilation helmet enclosing his entire head. Dan says “I had to wear a special helmet which was horrible. It was really claustrophobic and sometimes I had the treatment up to 11 times a day, it was a horrible feeling”.
Once Dan had recovered from the collapsed lung, the doctors began to run a series of tests starting with a bone marrow test. Despite the local anaesthetic, the procedure was excruciatingly painful.
On the 19th September 2005, Dan’s parents were told their son had Acute Lymphatic Leukaemia. Heart wrenchingly they had to break the news to Dan. “I just broke down in tears, I was so scared and in shock. My head was just in bits. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be that serious”.
Within days Dan started Intensive Chemotherapy. The treatments took their toll with his weight plummeting, constantly feeling nauseous, severe vomiting, difficulty eating and he particularly struggled to come to terms with losing his hair. He was also left with very little strength and energy.
Chemotherapy continued for a further 3 years and affected his muscles, destroying the soft muscle tissue in his right leg. He had physiotherapy and had to learn to walk again with sticks. Further blows were to hit Dan along his journey including a bleed on the brain, contracting C – Diff (Clostridium Difficile) a hospital bug more prevalent than the notorious superbug MRSA and numerous chest infections.
Dan’s family became his rock and their undoubted support helped pull him though the hard times which he is most grateful for, but heartbreakingly at a time when he most needed his friends, many struggled to come to terms with Dan’s illness and simply didn’t bother him anymore; others selfishly took advantage of his physical and emotional state, encouraging him to take drugs and steal from him.
Though his Health Worker Dan was offered tenancy from a housing association in sheltered housing specifically catering for the elderly which was located just 5 minutes from his parent’s house, he says “the accommodation was lovely and really immaculately kept, I had to keep it that way because of risk of infections and I just found it easier having my own space”. Unfortunately his property was broken into shortly after moving in and pretty much everything was taken including his computer which had been a great social tool for Dan whilst undergoing his treatments.
With all the events that had taken place over the last 3 years including the break in, Dan finally crumbled and began suffering with depression. The realisation hit him hard.
Dan’s social worker mentioned to him about Young Heroes and the possibility of a holiday in Lanzarote. He was thrilled and the thought gave him a much needed boost.
In May 2008 the holiday became reality for Dan and his mum, along with his Aunty, Grandma and Grandad who flew out to join them.
Dan recalls “The holiday was fantastic; we had such a laugh and the most beautiful meals in the restaurants. It felt brilliant to leave everything behind and I started to feel so much better”. He goes onto say “My close family came to join us as they wanted to see me smile again after such a tough few years, they enjoyed every minute of it”.Moving into Impact Accommodation
Bev and Rob Law who supported Dan whilst in Lanzarote continued to visit him and his family on a regular basis and were the first to tell him about Impact Accommodation and asked if he would be interested. It would be a chance to live independently but with the reassuring support from Impact staff.
In October 2008 Dan moved into his new flat in Bradford. “I absolutely love the flat and get loads of support here”, he says.
As his strength and confidence continue to build everyday, Dan plans for his future, hoping that one day he can train to become a Social Worker, “My illness has changed the way I think and ideally I want to help people as a job, people who can’t perhaps help themselves”.
Thanks to Dan for giving Impact permission to use his story and photo.