October 12, 2022
An RAF veteran who almost died after catching flu has urged others to protect themselves with a free vaccination this winter.
Mark Beech was rushed to hospital after struggling to breathe – and woke up in intensive care more than two weeks later.
Doctors called his daughters to his bedside twice because they feared he may not pull though.
“I was very lucky,” Mark said. “It was a life-changing experience for me. I don’t think I’ll ever recover from it.
“The consultant told me if I hadn’t been so strong and had so much willpower then I wouldn’t be here today.”
Mark, who lives in Rhyl, had contracted the H1N1 strain of flu – and says the illness has “obliterated” his life.
“I’m very lucky to be here, because I really didn’t realise how serious it was,” Mark said.
“I lost a month of my life in hospital, and then my way of life when I came out. That’s as simply as I can put it.
“I used to be able to walk on the beach with my daughter and her dog, or we’d go up the Orme in Llandundo or go walking in Betws Y Coed.
“But that’s all changed now. I can only walk for five or ten minutes before I need to find somewhere to sit down. I’m out of breath doing anything, and I get very tired.
“If I go to the supermarket I need to have a trolley to lean on. I need to get a taxi even to go short distances. I haven’t even just walked around the town centre for such a long time – I would just have to keep stopping.”
Mark served all over the world with the Royal Air Force Regiment between 1973 and 1997.
After leaving the services, the 65-year-old managed a number of businesses – before moving to North Wales and taking on a role advising on health benefits. He now volunteers with a veterans’ charity.
He was rushed to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd by ambulance a couple of days after Christmas in 2018 – but can’t remember arriving. Over a fortnight later, he regained consciousness in an intensive care bed.
Mark woke up in isolation, surrounded by life-saving equipment and nursing and medical staff in masks and gowns. Because he had a tracheotomy to help support his breathing, he was unable to speak. Mark spent a further two weeks recovering in hospital and now attends outpatient appointments for related conditions and rehab.
He said he would urge everyone eligible for the flu free vaccine to protect themselves, their family and vulnerable people in the community by taking up the offer.
“I could have had a flu jab, but I chose not to because I didn’t think I needed one,” Mark said. “Now I would say to anyone – if you don’t have one you could die, it’s a simple as that.
“Anything that will stop people from getting the flu is a good idea.
“I know it will help with the pressure on the NHS and on NHS staff too. But the bottom line is this will help you to look after yourself and avoid the flu.”
Public health experts have already warned that Wales could be facing a severe flu season for the first time since the pandemic, while COVID-19 continues to circulate in the community.
Free flu and Autumn COVID-19 booster vaccines are available to all adults aged 50 or over, plus priority high-risk groups including health workers, carers and people with underlying health conditions.
All children from Reception to Year 11 will be offered a painless nasal spray flu vaccine at school. Parents should look out for more information from their child’s school and make sure they return their consent form.
Children aged two and three (on August 31 2022) will also be invited to receive a spray flu vaccine at their GP surgery.
Betsi Cadwaladr immunisations coordinator Leigh Pusey said: “If you are in a priority group then getting your flu vaccine and Autumn COVID-19 booster is crucial.
“Please help to keep yourself well by making sure you take up this opportunity.
“Protecting children against flu is particularly important, and getting the painless nasal spray vaccine will help to protect children in North Wales from becoming seriously ill this winter.
“It will also help to stop children – who mix with so many others at school and nursery – from passing the flu virus on to members of their family and more vulnerable people in the community.”