12 °CFri, 16

'My wife was starving to death - and we had to battle to save her'

A VULNERABLE Antrim woman in the last stages of Alzheimer’s Disease was left ‘on the brink of starvation’ because health professionals refused to allow the family or carers to intervene, her devoted husband has revealed.

The local man, who has asked not to be named to afford his wife of 60 years some dignity in her final days, has accused her case workers of ‘laying down obstacles rather than finding solutions’ when the 82-year-old starting to refuse food last month.

His wife is now bed bound and has lost the power of speech, and she depends on the love of her family and the support of carers.

No longer able to chew, she had been carefully spoon fed food which had been specially thickened to help prevent choking. It was often a slow process, but they persevered - anything to keep her as comfortable as possible.

But then she stopped opening her mouth. The carers did their best, but soon the local pensioner began shedding weight at a dramatic rate.

“Some days they were unable to encourage her to eat anything or drink a drop,” her distraught husband said.

“It was then I realised that this was real life and death stuff. My wonderful wife was fading away in front of my eyes.”

Faced with that prospect, he decided to improvise. Using a syringe, he realised that he could slowly and carefully get his wife to take the nourishment she so desperately needed.

Heartened by that success, he showed the carers who visited their home each day and soon they too were using the syringe - and the Antrim woman started to rally.

But then a new carer was assigned to the case and, after examining her notes, she said that she could not use the life-saving syringe.

“She said it was potentially a choking hazard and that she could lose her job if anything went wrong. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” the local man told the Guardian.

“We then got word from the social worker that the carers were not allowed to use the syringe. And neither were we for that matter.

“Basically they wanted us to sit back and watch her die. There was no way that was going to happen. My wife would never give up on us, so I couldn’t give up on her.”

And so began a frantic battle for the right to keep his loving wife alive.

“Even though she was clearly deteriorating, the people in charge were very resistant. They were not happy with the syringe, but they were offering no alternatives.

“You imagine these people have your best interests at heart, but over the past few weeks I’ve discovered that no-one wants to make a decision.”

But the local man had already made an important one of his own. The carers could be instructed what to do, but those instructions did not apply to him.

“I decided that my duty of care to my wife is much more important on some set of guidelines. They might not like it, but I was going to keep feeding her the only way I could.”

He also decided to enlist the support of a powerful ally.

“I contacted our doctor and explained the circumstances and he agreed to come out and see us.

“I demonstrated to him how I used the syringe and he agreed that it was safe.

“The social worker was informed and she said she would need to have it in writing. Unfortunately Dr Prakash was not in that afternoon, but the next day he very kindly drafted a letter and sent it on our behalf.

“We were then contacted again and told that they could not accept the letter because it had not stipulated how many millilitres could be dispensed.

“It was as if they were going out of their way to make life difficult. It was hugely frustrating for the whole family.

“Living with Alzheimer’s has been a very painful experience for us all, but we never expected that we would have to fight for this basic human right too.”

At the time of going to press last night, the local man has still to receive official notification if he is permitted to keep his wife alive.

Whether it arrives or not, the vigil continues.

“We were married 60 years ago last month,”he said.

“We vowed then that we would stay together until death us do part. If I can do anything to have more precious time with her, I will.”

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