Northern Ireland

Barbados hospital unit opens in memory of NI QC, John Thompson

Tina Thompson says the day she unveiled the plaque she felt elated Image copyright Tina Thompson
Image caption Tina Thompson says the day she unveiled the plaque she felt elated

Belfast and Barbados are divided by some 4,000 miles of ocean.

Although they are so very far apart, one Northern Ireland family has built an emotional bridge between the two.

From her County Down home, Tina Thompson explains the special connection she now has with Barbados following an accident involving her husband back in 2007.

John Thompson QC died following a freak sailing accident in the Caribbean in 2007.

After his death the family set up a trust fund in John's name which helped pay for the reopening of the surgical intensive care unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados.

John died while fulfilling a lifelong ambition to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

He and his son, Daniel, were two of the crew on board the Avocet, an Oyster 41 yacht, which was making its way through a storm on the way to the island of St Lucia.

They were taking part in the 2007 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers race, battling through 20ft waves, when John fell, sustaining a serious head injury.

Although a distress call was sent out, the nearest ship was 16 hours away. When it arrived, doctors worked on John until they arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados where the rest of his family was waiting.

"My husband's first love was his family, but his second was sailing. He loved to sail and it is some comfort to me that he died doing something he loved so much," said Tina.

Image copyright Tina Thompson
Image caption John Thompson had a love of sailing

The family were devastated to learn they could not donate their father's organs because the hospital did not have the facilities to do so.

"When we realised John was dying we enquired about having his organs donated, as he would have wished.

"As Barbados couldn't, we were to be charged $25,000 [to transport John's body]. John's organs were not for sale - he would not have wanted that."

So the family decided to set up a trust fund to pay for the reopening of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at the hospital, and to establish a transplant unit there.

More than £140,000 was raised for the hospital, which paid for the renovation and new equipment in the unit where John Thompson spent his final days.

The family made the first donation of £25,000. People in Northern Ireland made donations ranging from £5 to £5,000.

Nine years on, a new and modern facility is now available to people on the island.

Image copyright Tina Thompson
Image caption The plaque that now hangs in the hospital in Barbados

Earlier this year, Tina unveiled a plaque in her husband's honour at the hospital.

"The day I unveiled the plaque I felt elated in so many different ways. Due to the generosity of John's friends and family in Northern Ireland, a new unit has now opened and is helping mothers and children living with the ravages caused by diabetes."

Ronald Jones, the trust administrator, said the hospital was extremely grateful. Paying tribute to the family he acknowledged the kindness shown by the Thompsons.

"In acknowledging really, I guess, the warmth that Tina received in Barbados in such a traumatic time, the first thing she thought to do was try and do something positive for the island and of course for the hospital where she spent a lot of hours with her husband John," he said.