Wisbech man Robert Smith and his devoted mum Rita were celebrating this week after hearing he would finally be getting a new electric wheelchair.
The news came as a belated birthday present for Robert, who celebrated his 24th birthday just over a week ago, and is the culmination of months of fundraising on his behalf by Wisbech sisters Barbara Elsey and Margaret Green supported by the Fenland Citizen.
Money flooded into the Robert Smith Fundraising account after his plight was highlighted in a national newspaper at the weekend and by Monday afternoon the appeal had reached a staggering £10,058 - rising by nearly £8,000 in just three days.
Robert’s story was highlighted in the Citizen back in April when Rita asked this paper for help in making his dream of watching the WWE wrestling come true.
Robert suffers from Proteus Syndrome, the same condition which afflicted the “elephant man”, and has been practically bedridden since a serious bout of meningitis three years ago left him unable to walk.
He is a massive 8ft 5ins tall and weighs over 19 stones and his condition has also affected his eyesight. His size makes it impossible for his mum to push him in a conventional wheelchair, and he can’t get in and out of a car, and as a result he has only been out three or four times in the past three years, and only once this year.
And that was in May when the Citizen made his dream of watching his wrestling heroes in action come true. We arranged not only VIP tickets donated by Capital FM Arena in Nottingham but also for Robert to meet his number one wrestling hero John Cena before the bouts began.
The East Anglian Ambulance Trust provided a non-emergency ambulance driven by off duty paramedic Adrian White helped by trainee Emergency Care Assistance Paul Sweeney, who both volunteered their time.
Robert will need a custom-built wheelchair to fit his large frame, and his needs were assessed at the end of August by the NHS Wheelchair Services based in Peterborough.
However, it is unclear whether or not the wheelchair will be provided free-of-charge, but if the NHS does come up trumps then the money donated by generous Citizen readers, and others who have given into the fund nationally, will be used to provide other equipment to enhance Robert’s life. Rita was hoping for an update from the wheelchair providers yesterday (Tuesday).
At the moment Robert (pictured above with his hero John Cena) has to spend all his time in bed as he does not have a suitable chair at his home in Seabank Road, Walsoken.
The Robert Smith Fundraising money could used to provide him with a special recliner, and there is also hopes of creating the garden into a wheelchair friendly oasis so Robert can sit outside.
Rita, who describes Robert as her “gift from heaven”, has been truly overwhelmed by the generosity of people, first in helping Robert enjoy his trip to the wrestling, and now in helping provide money for his much-hoped for wheelchair.
“He still talks about the wrestling, it will be a day he will never forget. He has his pipe dreams like everyone else and that includes going to the wrestling again.
“He can’t wait to get a wheelchair, and talks about all the things he plans to do once he has it and he can get out and about again. One of the things he wants to do is to go out for a meal with friends. He used to do that when he could still walk.
“The kindness of everyone who has helped Robert has restored my faith in people. I don’t like asking for help, but I just couldn’t see any other way and I really can’t thank people enough,” said Rita.
Barbara and Margaret, who have worked tirelessly for the past four months to raise money for Robert by organising numerous events, including a Christmas bazaar and craft fair which is being held on Saturday November 23 at Walsoken Village Hall, are absolutely delighted by the public’s response.
They could not believe the response from people all over the country after Robert’s story went national at the weekend.
“I went to get an updated balance and just couldn’t believe it when I saw how much had come in. It is overwhelming. We still have a few events planned and we will continue with those because all money raised will go to help make Robert’s life better, including paying for trips out as he will need specialist transport. If we have any money left over then we will use it to help other local people with similar difficulties,” said Margaret.
And Barbara added: “We have worked hard to help Robert, and we are grateful to everyone who has supported us. We would particularly like to thank the Citizen for all their help.”
Events planned also include a clairvoyant evening with Paul Mainwaring at the White Lion Hotel in Wisbech on Wednesday November 13 at 7pm.