The family of Pete Hart had secured funding from the local authority to build an extension and remodel the downstairs of their home to create a bedroom and bathroom for him – as he had been left with a profound physical disability after suffering hypoxic brain damage brought on by a heart attack.
The funding was for the internal works, but the family were also in desperate need of outside work to be completed, including a level, bigger, wheelchair-friendly driveway and more parking for his carers.
Gordon Hart, who is known by all as Pete, had been a bricklayer since the age of 18 and is a larger-than-life character with a do-anything-for-anyone outlook on life.
A month into the first lockdown in April 2020, the 55-year-old suffered a massive heart attack at home. His partner of 32 years, Sam, a registered nurse, heard the thud as Pete hit the floor of the upstairs bedroom and immediately began CPR until the paramedics arrived and continued to work on him for more than two hours before he was stable enough to be moved.
The father of two girls was on a ventilator in intensive care for nearly three months – during which time Sam and the girls could only see him a handful of times due to the COVID restrictions. And there were three occasions where the medical team discussed turning off his ventilator if he showed no signs of meaningful recovery.
After four months, Pete showed signs of cognitive recovery and was moved to a neurological rehabilitation hospital, where he stayed for a further five months. Sam had an almighty battle to be able to get Pete home because he has complex needs.
He needs round-the-clock care and carers four times a day, as he is wheelchair bound because he cannot use his arms, hands and legs. He also suffers from epilepsy, diabetes and cortical blindness.
Sam has given up a 30-year career in the NHS to care for Pete and is overseeing his rehabilitation. Pete has permission to attend the wheelchair gym at Chailey Heritage Foundation, which is one of the UK’s leading centres for children and young people with complex disabilities.
She had to jump through hoops to get the agreement for the local authority to fund the extension, and it was by chance that she saw the story of another Band of Builders beneficiary, Rob Lamb, so she got in touch to see if there was any help available.
Nearly 50 tradespeople – from as far afield as Dublin and Norfolk, as well as plenty of local trades – volunteered on this 11-day project, which was led by Project Lead Tony Everett.
The driveway at the front of the house was in desperate need of repair because it was all rutted and potholed, and the main focus was to completely redesign it, make it much bigger and create more car parking space for Pete’s carers.
The driveway was block paved and made level, giving flowing access from the house to the outdoors for Pete.
In addition to this, the volunteers laid paving at the side and rear of the property, giving the family wheelchair access right round the exterior of the house.
On the day of handover, Sam told BBC Radio Sussex: “Thank you is not enough – and we are just so grateful, especially as most of the volunteers didn’t know Pete.”