FAMILY trying to fly home a desperately sick former paratrooper have thanked Evening News readers for their “overwhelming” support.
Ex-Royal Scots Dragoon Guard Derek Bennett, known as Benny, is paralysed from the neck down after being struck by a mystery bug in Northern Cyprus.
Friends and family need to raise £29,000 to medivac the retired warrant officer back to Kirknewton, West Lothian – and are up to £16,000.
Victoria Guthrie launched the appeal for the 66-year-old – best friend of her dad Geoff who died of a heart attack when she was just nine.
“I can’t thank people enough. We’re blown away,” said Mrs Guthrie, 29, of Currie.
“We’ve had support from people we know and from people who don’t know us and don’t know Benny.
“Some have got in touch to say the same thing has happened to them, or something similar. It’s just so overwhelming.”
Mr Bennett fell ill on September 15 while on a holiday with family and friends, including Victoria’s mum Yvonne Troy.
Previously based in Northern Cyprus, Mr Bennett makes regular visits from his home in Kirknewton.
“He’d been for a walk up the mountain in the morning like he always does and later at dinner had a really sore back, said Mrs Guthrie.
“It came on very quickly. He went to the accident and emergency and they gave him some painkillers and sent him away but it just got progressively worse.
“He had a really, really high fever and really erratic blood pressure – they’re not 100 per cent sure what caused it and kept asking if he’d been bitten by a rat or snake on his walk.”
Another theory is that the paralysis might be linked to successive back injuries from his time with the Paras.
Mr Bennett spent two-and-a-half weeks in intensive care while friends and family are now keeping a bedside vigil and taking turns to help feed him.
“He can talk but he’s really out of breath,” said Mrs Guthrie. “He’s very quiet.”
Communicating with Turkish-speaking medics is complicating matters further, with German found to be the only common language.
“Everybody has been amazing over there,” said an emotional Mrs Guthrie. “But we can’t seem to get any answers, even to simple questions you take for granted.
“He’s lost a ridiculous amount of muscle – the weight is just dropping off him.”
Doctors in Northern Cyprus believe Mr Bennett contracted a virulent infection which attacked his central nervous system – but are at a loss as to the cause.
“Benny’s always been there – he’s like an honorary stepdad,” said Mrs Guthrie. “He even walked me down the aisle at my wedding.
“We just need to get him home. He’ll probably need an operation and the Western General has a specialist unit.”
Donations can be made at: https://www.gofundme.com/zkmh6s-get-benny-home