Former pupils of a retired Belfast art teacher have banded together to raise just shy of £18,000 to help fund his life-saving cancer treatment.
John Price, former head of art at St Louise’s Comprehensive College in west Belfast, was forced to go private to fund his treatment after it was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The 69-year-old artist was diagnosed with oral cancer after the discovery of a growth during a routine trip to the dentist in March of this year.
Mr Price, from Lambeg near Lisburn, was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), an advanced T4 aggressive tumour, and told he would need to undergo a mandibulectomy (jaw removal) and reconstruction.
Given the stage the tumour was at he was told he would have to go undergo the procedure as soon as possible.
However, following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Northern Ireland a number of services were scaled back to focus on the virus and prevent further spread.
Mr Price was informed that his surgery and reconstruction could no longer take place due to concerns around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
He was informed that the jaw and the tumour could be removed, but the reconstruction could not take place, leaving him with significant disfigurement, along with issues around eating and talking.
The former art teacher reluctantly decided that going private was the only way he could get the surgery he needed.
A private surgery in London was identified to carry out the procedure, at a cost of £50,000 which had to be paid before the surgery took place.
Mr Price was forced to quickly borrow the money from friends and family after being unable to remortgage his house as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
He received the seven-hour surgery and reconstruction at Bupa Cromwell Hospital on April 18.
Following doctor's orders, Mr Price was forced to stay in England for three weeks to recuperate, he returned home to Northern Ireland on Thursday.
Friends of Mr Price have decided to band together to raise some money to help him pay off the debts incurred by his surgery.
One of the organisers of the gofundme page, Mark Hewitt said that the artist should not be left "with debts hanging over him" during his retirement.
"John worked his whole life; contributing to the NHS. When he needed it most, he found that it had been irreparably damaged and was unable to provide him with the care he needed," Mr Hewitt said.
"We knew that people would rally around to try to help him out, if they knew what was happening."
Another organiser, Barbara Muldoon said that many of the donations were coming from past pupils at St Louise's.
Mr Price spent 34 years working at the school before retiring nine years ago.
"St Louise’s was formerly an all girls school and it is so noticeable that over 90% of donations are from females,“ she said.
"Some of the amounts have been quite modest and we have received so many private messages from people, apologising that they can’t afford more and explaining that they have no income and no savings due to the current economic situation.
" It is amazing that even in their own difficult circumstances, they have still stretched themselves to do everything to try to help 'Mr Price'."
Mr Price said he is " incredibly moved and humbled by the support that he has been shown by everyone".
If you would like to contribute to Mr Price's fundraiser you can visit the gofundme page here.