Surviving a serious accident changed Tom Didcott’s perspective on life.
At the age of 23 he was knocked off his motorbike in a collision with a lorry on a road in London then woke up in hospital.
“I had a near death experience,” he says. “All I remember was riding a bike then the next minute being in hospital with all these lights and noises.
“When I came out of this accident I came out a different person.
“It crushed my lungs and my leg badly, and crippled me, and it took me a year-and-a-half to learn to walk again.”
‘I lost an inch-and-a-half in my leg’
Tom, who lives near Beauly in Inverness-shire, has suffered problems with his leg, which doesn’t bend properly, ever since.
But his life started to improve after coming across an “amazing” factory in Wales selling shoe insoles for people with legs of different sizes.
“I lost an inch-and-a-half in length in my right leg and it was really painful walking and standing,” Tom explains.
“They made me this set of insoles and off I went; life was fantastic.”
Ever since the accident Tom, now 58, has gotten through all the “negative bits” of life with a sense of humour.
And it’s helped him cope with difficult days battling baffling health problems.
‘The doctor found a golf ball sized hole in my brain’
The silversmith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2010 after noticing issues with his hands and eyesight.
“I was driving my car one day and having double vision,” he says.
After a doctor recommended he was booked in for a scan the results came back showing lesions on his brain.
A Raigmore Hospital specialist then explained he was suffering from relapsing remitting MS.
The condition often causes the immune system to attack tissue in the brain.
“He reckons I had it from an early age,” Tom explains. “He found this golf ball sized hole in my brain due to the MS eating the brain cells away.
“It’s just one of those things and it happens.”
‘It’s really scary’
Tom says it’s been difficult living with the condition and relapses often occur without any warning.
He’s a creative person running his own business Riverside Silver creating jewellery for customers from abroad and the UK.
But the condition can affect his ability to work with hot metal because it leaves him with cramps and no feeling in his fingertips.
“I have a relapse and then I wake up the next day and can’t walk properly, or use my hand – or think,” he says. “It’s really scary.”
Then he developed the allergy to meat…
It took a long time for Tom to realise he was allergic to meat.
Every now and then he would break out in a rash… then it would develop into itchy hives all over his body.
It eventually got so bad his partner had to take him to hospital.
“The first time I was eating venison.” Tom explains. “I used to eat it in the evening and I would come out in these hives.
“She’d have to take me to hospital when I couldn’t breathe properly. My throat would start to close up and I would get these panic attacks.
“I used to perch on the edge of the settee while trying to concentrate and rock back and fore to stop scratching myself to pieces.
“One time I had it so bad I could feel it inside my body, behind my eyes, and I thought, ‘right, this is getting scary now’.”
When Tom arrived at the hospital, he would be given antihistamines and it became clear that this treatment always seemed to work.
He adds: “After a while, I started to join the dots together and wonder if it was always happening when I ate meat.”
What caused the severe allergy?
Baffled Tom carried out research and eventually came across a rare condition called Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS).
The serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction is caused by a bite from a small tick that also carries Lyme Disease.
The Mayo Clinic says the bite transfers a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the body triggering a reaction when the person eats red meat.
It might sound a simple fix – avoid eating burgers and steaks – but as Tom has discovered, even eating dairy products and gelatin triggers it.
Last year Tom suffered an allergic reaction causing a breakout of hives after stopping off for fuel at a petrol station and buying a bag of liquorice.
Sweets containing gelatin can cause a reaction, leaving Tom breaking out in itchy hives and feeling like “a thousand ants are running all over my body”.
“I could feel I was getting hot as I drove along the road, my hands were getting sweaty, and my breathing was speeding up,” he says.
“I pulled over and reached into my wallet for the strong antihistamines I keep for such emergencies and drove to a local park so I could go for a walk.”
It can take up to three hours for the itchiness to calm down.
On another occasion, he collapsed with a breakout of hives after eating a chicken burger which, unbeknown to Tom, had been cooked on a meat grill.
He’s now given up eating sweets and takes extra precautions at home.
His food is stored on his own shelf in the fridge and he wears disposable gloves if he knows he’s going to be anywhere near meat.
Fortunately for Tom, he no longer needs to head on an emergency trip to the hospital because he takes antihistamines with him whenever he leaves home.
‘I wish there was a cure’
He’s spoken out about the condition because he’s keen to raise awareness of Alpha-gal syndrome.
“I try to explain to friends that I can’t eat meat pies because I’m allergic to meat and they always ask why,” he says.
“But I am, and it could kill me if I eat it. There have been cases where people have gone into shock and they die.
“I’d been a meat eater all my life and I’d never had reactions.
“I just wish there was a cure.”
If you have a health story you would also like to raise awareness of you can contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org