When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was.
I was surrounded by tubes, unfamiliar smells and people I didn’t know. My memory was patchy and I couldn’t move properly.
I soon realised that my family were there and they were asking me if I knew where I was. I just stared back confused. They told me that I had been in a coma for almost two weeks – I’d had a stroke and I was in hospital. I struggled to remember what had happened.
A few weeks before my 30th birthday, I was at home with my fiancee Melissa. I remember having the worst headache – a sharp pain in my temple like nothing I had ever felt before. I tried to rest but the pain didn’t stop, so I told Melissa that something was wrong and she called an ambulance. If she hadn’t been at home and reacted so quickly, I wouldn’t be alive today.
At the hospital, the doctors told my family I had only a 30 per cent chance of surviving. I have always had problems with my blood clotting and the stroke was a result of bleeding in my brain. During an operation, doctors removed a piece of my skull to relieve the pressure on my brain. I may have survived the operation, but I was left paralysed on my left side.
A couple of weeks after the operation, while I was still in the stroke rehabilitation unit, I was presented with a £93,000 bill for the lifesaving operation and for my time in intensive care.
When I was 14-years-old, my family came to the UK in 2004 from Zimbabwe. My dad was a student at the time and immigrated with me, my mother and my two brothers.
In 2009, my dad applied for asylum in the UK after he criticised Mugabe’s government and a warrant for his arrest was issued in Zimbabwe. Even though he would have been locked up if he went back home, my father, along with everyone else in our family aside from my older brother, was refused leave to remain.
Despite multiple attempts, the Home Office continues to refuse our family’s applications for asylum. My mother and younger brother, who came here on a short term visa, are currently stuck in Zimbabwe and I have not seen them for 11 years.
As ‘refused asylum seekers’ we are not allowed to work, nor are we allowed access to vital services like the NHS without paying for them. As part of their ‘hostile environment’ policies, the government changed the law in 2017 so that ‘ineligible migrants’ have to pay up-front for ‘non-urgent’ care. Yet even though my operation was needed to save my life, I have to pay for it too.
Before the stroke, my GP had referred me to a specialist haematology department for my blood clotting condition. After a few appointments, I kept getting calls from the finance department of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, demanding that I pay over £6,000 for my treatment – money I did not have.
The hospital told me that the next time I went to my appointment, I would be asked to pay for it straight away. I didn’t want to get into any more debt so, three months before I had my stroke, I stopped going.
I felt so trapped due to not being able to go to appointments I knew I needed, being in debt to the NHS and having no way of paying it back, and being told that this debt might affect a new application for asylum.
This all had a huge impact on my health. I do not think I would have had a stroke if I had been able to get the treatment I needed and if I hadn’t been so stressed.
Before the stroke I had trained as a fitness instructor – I was active and independent. Now I am completely reliant on Melissa and my family to care for me.
I cannot walk down the stairs of Melissa’s second floor flat, where we live together, and have to wait for an ambulance to help me out of the house for appointments. I need support with even the simplest things like eating and going to the toilet.
The truth is that there are so many stories like mine, of people whose lives have been turned upside down by the hostile environment. Charging people to use the NHS just doesn’t make sense – we know that preventative care is both better for the patient and cheaper for the NHS.
We also know that, like me, the people being charged for care are the people least able to pay for it. These bills just push us away from getting the care we need, with devastating consequences.
I have been joined by people and community organisations from across Sheffield and launched the Justice for Simba campaign. It felt so powerful to take control of my situation, to stand with my community and say that we will not stand for this.
We are calling for my NHS bills to be written off, for the Home Office to accept my claim for asylum and to reunite my family. We are also calling for an end to all of these brutal hostile environment policies and justice for everyone who has been impacted by them.
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