Mar 022017

After battling with necrotizing fasciitis, Robin Grant ran in the Ness 10K in 2016 and will return in 2017.

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

An Aberdeenshire man who suffered from a rare flesh-eating bacteria has recovered to discover a passion for running.

After battling with necrotizing fasciitis, Robin Grant has developed a love of exploring the great outdoors on foot and will compete in the Baxters River Ness 10k in September.

It was an ordinary day at work in August 2014 for Robin (43) – originally from Old Rayne in Aberdeenshire and now living in Inverness – when he began to notice the first symptoms of the illness.

He says,

“I suddenly felt an intense pain in my arm. It felt like I had overstretched and trapped a nerve in my shoulder – only multiplied by a hundred. But after about half an hour, the pain went away and I thought I was okay.”

For Robin, a visit to the doctor is usually out of the question – but as the pain returned and the severity increased – he had little option.

He continues,

“The pain came back and it was excruciating. Although I don’t usually visit the doctor – I wasn’t even registered at the GP – I walked up to casualty and was given some painkillers.

“The next day I visited the GP who gave me some more painkillers. I had to register, but I could barely lift my arm due to the pain and they had to fill in all the forms for me.

“As the week went on I got progressively worse, to the point where I couldn’t get to the end of the road without feeling violently sick.”

Struggling on his own, Robin’s father took him to the family home in Aberdeenshire to offer some support. But over the weekend, Robin’s condition deteriorated.

Robin says,

“I was getting worse and worse, so my dad took me to see his GP in Insch. He took one look at me and asked, ‘Have you got transport or do you need me to call an ambulance?’”

Robin was rushed to A&E in Aberdeen where, after just four hours, he was taken into surgery. He was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis – a rare condition that is known as a flesh-eating bacteria. The illness causes tissue death in affected areas, resulting in incredible pain.

Robin explains,

“When I came out of surgery, I was in intensive care for about two weeks and on a ventilator for a week. The only way to treat the bug is to cut it out – the flesh is essentially dead – so I also required plastic surgery.”

Frustrated by the constraints of his hospital bed, Robin’s thoughts turned to an old hobby – running. He says, “For me, hospital was an incredibly boring place. I signed up to take part in a local 10k event while I was still admitted, and completed it the next year.”

Six months after his ordeal in hospital, Robin was back in Inverness and back at work as driver supervisor at Arnold Clark Car and Van Rental. But he couldn’t shake his passion for running – despite having to adapt to new limitations. Robin explains,

“I had to develop a different style of running. My right side was hit hard by the bug – I lost my shoulder muscles and part of my bicep – so it really affected my balance. I couldn’t swing my right arm, and I still can’t lift it properly to this day.

“I noticed that I had begun to compensate with the left side of my body, but I actually feel like I’m running better now than I ever did before. It might be because I’m running more now, but I think that I’m also improving because I’m thinking more about how I need to run.”

After his first race, Robin began to enter a number of 10ks across the country – including the River Ness 10k, part of the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running. And despite having run in some incredible locations across the country, Robin counts his local race as one of the best.

He says,

“I was back living in Inverness and decided to run the River Ness 10K. It was tough – it was roasting hot that day – but I absolutely loved it. The course is great, and the energy around the whole event is really uplifting.

“This year I’m looking to up my distance and run a few half marathons. I’d run a few before I was ill, but this will be the first time I’ve attempted it recently. And I’ll definitely be back to run in the River Ness 10K. The year wouldn’t feel complete without it.

“I’ve got my sights set on the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon, though. One day soon, you’ll find me on the starting line.”

The River Ness 10k takes place on September 24, and is part of the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running. The event, which draws thousands of people from across the world, also comprises the title marathon, 10K Corporate Challenge, River Ness 5K and a Wee Nessie fun-run for pre-school children.

The finish line is based around the Event Village at the Bught Park in Inverness, where runners and spectators can enjoy the Baxters Food and Drink Fayre, a Sports Expo, live music and activities for children.

Entries are still open at The event is also active on Facebook at and on Twitter @nessmarathon

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Jun 102014

Following on from Duncan Harley’s two part article marking the 50th Anniversary of the typhoid epidemic in Aberdeen, Sandra McKay shares with Aberdeen Voice readers her childhood memories of 1964 when she and her mother survived the disease.

1024px-Typhoid_inoculation2I remember standing holding my daddy’s hand, my sister on the other side of him as we watched the ambulance disappear down to the end of our road.
I was six years old and this was the day my mummy was taken into hospital with typhoid.

I thought I would never see her again.

Everyone was talking about it. The Typhoid. Neighbours in the street, people in shops, bus conductors, even children.

Newspapers and television were advising the nation how many more people in Aberdeen had fallen victim to the disease. Families were cancelling holidays. Other towns and cities were urging Aberdonians not to visit.

Our lives over the following weeks seemed empty without our mum.

She had apparently bought cold meat from a shop in Union Street called Lows. My sister did not eat any, as she had been attending a friend’s birthday party. Mum, Dad, and myself ate the meat.

We visited my mummy at the City Hospital in Aberdeen. This was a bleak experience. We had to speak to her through huge closed windows. I found it sad as I watched other families trying to converse with their loved ones in the same way.

The long days continued to pass. I too became very unwell. Mummy was still gone. Daddy was at home looking after us. Schools were off. There seemed to be numerous doctor’s visits and lots of samples were taken.

Eventually I was taken into hospital. I do not remember anything about getting there. All I remember was looking up at lights and screens at night. The first few days must have passed in a blur as I have no memory of this time. However, as I became a little stronger I was allowed to get up and dress. Unfortunately I was given boy’s clothes to wear. This was a less than positive experience for a six-year-old girl.

How time dragged. I can still remember the layout of the ward. Where the clock was, where the ‘clothes choosing’ and dressing area was, how the windows were allowed to open, and more importantly how they had to remain tightly closed. Lockers and beds were dragged into the centre of the ward every morning at cleaning time, 10 a.m.

This movement was exciting to watch. I remember the medicine trolley with the thick brown stuff, and the milky white stuff.  Both were really horrible.

There is no memory of anyone coming in to play with us and time seemed to go on for ever

I remember our family coming to visit me every day. My mummy was with them as she had been given the ‘all clear’ after a stay in hospital of four weeks. I hadn’t been close to her for such a long time. The emotion was difficult for everyone. One day they brought my friend Susan down to visit me.

I can still remember that feeling, tears in our eyes, as young six-year-olds tried in such a grown up way, to deal with the ‘situation’ and the impossible task of interacting through granite walls and huge closed windows. It was easier when everyone just went away.

More long days and weeks passed. I did lots of colouring-in and received lots of crayons and books. I was also given by an older girl in the ward, who was given the ‘all clear’ ahead of my time, two little dollies with a few pieces of clothing. These dollies became really precious to me. Another memory I have of isolation at Ward 2 was the number of ice lollies we were given. Something to do with the fever I think.

There is no memory of anyone coming in to play with us and time seemed to go on for ever. I remember watching the jerky movement of the big minute hand on the ward clock as time passed by. I remember looking through colouring books for a page that wasn’t coloured in.  I remember changing the dollies for the millionth time. I remember not liking the food or the food smells.

Eventually the day came, when I was informed of my ‘all clear’. I was going home. Someone in authority assured me that the little dollies would be fumigated and sent to me with other belongings. This seemed OK with me.

On the day of my release from hospital, the weather was very warm. At my request our family visited the Beach park with the concrete train and rail track. We also spent time at the pony and trap rides which were at Aberdeen Beach during the sixties. I felt very peculiar, as if I didn’t fit in. I just wanted to get home to see if the dollies had arrived.

Unfortunately they never came.

Sandra McKay (Aged six, letter written aged 41, now aged 56)

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May 302014

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the terrifying outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen City

In part two of his article Duncan Harley looks at some of the issues surrounding the episode in which the people of the beleaguered city of Aberdeen literally ate the evidence while officials from MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) seemingly connived to sell the remaining stocks of corned beef abroad.

milne report typhoid aberdeenInitially the press were largely unaware of the 1964 Aberdeen typhoid outbreak but as the numbers of hospital admissions grew it became obvious that an epidemic was in progress.

Headlines proclaimed a ‘City under siege’ and the situation was not helped by the proclamation of the then Medical Officer of Health, Dr MacQueen: 

“We’re not a leper colony! End this hysteria”. 

His subsequent advice to both Aberdonians and holidaymakers alike to avoid swimming or paddling in the sea led to a local paper headlining on ‘Beach Bombshell’ and pretty effectively killed off any short term prospect of the return of the lucrative ‘Glasgow holiday trade’ to the beach seafront area.

Described by a colleague as ‘a bulldog with the hide of a rhinoceros’ Dr MacQueen’s strategy of innovative traditionalism has been seen by some as an attempt to protect and extend his department’s services.

He was judged by some to have made excessive use of the media and to have turned the outbreak into an event approaching a national crisis. Indeed the Milne Report into the handling and course of the epidemic commented that:

“we consider that the methods used by the Medical Officer of Health” were

“not wholly justified.”

By the end of May 1964 the MOH was advising the national press that Aberdeen was now ‘a beleaguered city’ and suggesting that Aberdonians should not venture outside the city boundaries. Outsiders should ‘stay away’ he said.

Public baths, youth clubs and sports clubs closed down for the duration and even the Police Pipe Band, who would later be on hand to play for the Typhoid Queen had to cancel an appearance in Renfrew.

Even the normally sedate Sunday Times newspaper got in on the act with an exclusive which claimed that the Granite City’s image as a clean modern city was erroneous. Seemingly Aberdeen was in reality a city suffering chronic housing problems and poor sanitation. Such histrionic rubbish only served to deepen the crisis.

The news of the epidemic was reported around the globe with one Spanish periodical reporting that the streets of Aberdeen were littered with unburied rotting corpses waiting to be thrown into the sea.

Although the tourist trade was first to suffer with hotels being particularly hard hit there were significant effects felt all over the North East. Caravan sites and hotels began refusing bookings from Aberdonians, butchery and fresh produce firms saw their customers sourcing goods elsewhere rather than risk buying from a city under siege.

Typhoid Queen p and J headlineThe Elgin based wholesale fruit firm Reeve Ltd found it necessary to announce that none of their merchandise was coming from Aberdeen and a grocer in Forres told customers that it had cancelled all supplies from the city and now only sourced from firms in the South of Scotland

Alexander’s Bus Company reported a marked decrease in ticket sales with some services running virtually empty and at one stage panic ensued when a local Aberdeen butcher’s Thistle Street shop was wrongly identified as being the source of the outbreak.

Paranoia reached a peak when the catch of an Aberdeen fishing boat was seized after the skipper became ill with suspected typhoid. The matter was discussed at the daily crisis meeting in the council offices.

After some deliberation, during which it was pointed out that ‘unless the crew are in the habit of defecating in the hold, there is no scientific reason to suppose that the fish pose a health risk’, the catch was duly released for sale and public consumption.

For patients and relatives the experience was more serious however.

Placed in isolation wards and uncertain as to when or even if they would be allowed home, patients had to endure weeks of treatment separated from friends and family. Stories of visitors communicating with relatives through locked glass windows are common and as one Old Meldrum man recalls:

“I couldn’t understand why my father and mother weren’t allowed at my bedside, later when I was allowed up we would talk at the ward window, which was of course closed. This went on in my case for about 5 weeks. Luckily I have not had any long lasting effects from the illness but it must have been really hard for the younger children.”

Many others have similar stories.

Compared to the human cost of the Lanarkshire E. coli outbreak – twenty one deaths, Aberdeen’s typhoid epidemic’s total of three deaths pales into insignificance, however the after effects rumbled on for years.

government stockpiles of corned beef at the time contained further quantities of infected Rosario cans

Businesses in some cases never recovered and jobs were lost.

Tourism never really returned to previous heights and the local economy suffered until North Sea Oil finally came to the rescue.

In the wake of the outbreak there were enquiries at both local and national level, the Milne Enquiry being perhaps the most influential. In summary the Milne Report squarely places the source of the infection on infected corn beef imported from the Rosario factory in the Argentine and further stated that there was no evidence that the infected meat had come from government stockpiles.

The fact that the UK government stockpiles of corned beef at the time contained further quantities of infected Rosario cans was seemingly not an issue for Milne and his report concluded that:

“where canned meats are produced under satisfactory hygienic conditions – they will be free from any health hazard.”

It took almost 10 years for the existing emergency corned beef stocks in UK government run warehouses to be disposed of. The main method of disposal was the exporting the now suspect food to other markets abroad with a proviso that the meat should be re-processed.

Not only had the citizens of Aberdeen eaten the evidence from the initial source of the outbreak but over the years subsequent to the Milne Committee’s deliberation, the unsuspecting citizens of many other countries consumed the evidence which remained.

As a postscript, Michael Noble MP then Secretary of State for Scotland announced in September 1964 that in the light of the Aberdeen Typhoid Epidemic he would ensure that ‘additional funding’ would be made available to any local authority in Scotland ‘wishing to provide hand washing facilities within public conveniences’.  He urged that councils should take up this generous offer before the end of the financial year.

Aberdonians were of course by this time already in the habit of washing their hands at every available opportunity despite the comment by Buff Hardie and his mates that:

“we never washed wir hands unless we did the lavvie first.”

© Duncan Harley 2014

All rights reserved

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May 232014

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the terrifying outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen. In part one of a two part article Duncan Harley looks at some of the issues surrounding the episode.

Corned Beef duncan harley typhoid Headlines such as “Typhoid in Bully Tin” would put many Aberdonians and indeed consumers all around the globe off eating the product, some even to the present day.
The series of events which led to the Aberdeen Typhoid Epidemic was however global in nature and involved significant governmental failure.

Amid cheers from assembled friends and curious onlookers and with a rousing tune from the Aberdeen Police Pipe Band, a tired but relieved young woman emerged from isolation in Aberdeen’s Tor-Na-Dee Hospital clutching a bouquet and wearing a brightly coloured sash which proclaimed her the “Typhoid Queen 1964”.

The date was Friday 19th June 1964 and following a thirty day ordeal, twenty three year old assistant librarian Evelyn Gauld had become the first of over five hundred patients being treated for Typhoid to be discharged from the Granite City’s hospitals following what is still remembered worldwide as the Aberdeen Typhoid Epidemic.

This dubious title “Typhoid Queen” was a gift to the press and headlines right across the globe proclaimed her “The symbol of the city”.

After more than four weeks of headlines dedicated to the plight of the beleaguered citizens of Aberdeen an end to the epidemic was in sight and a Royal visit by HRH Queen Elizabeth, nine days later, seemed to confirm that the city which had been described as a leper colony was now safe enough for royalty to travel through, albeit in a sealed limousine.

The Aberdeen typhoid outbreak began quietly on May 16th 1964 when two university students were admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with a diagnosis of pyrexia of unknown origin.

They had been fevered for several days and on May 20th bacteriological results confirmed a diagnosis of typhoid fever by which time the two patients had been transferred to the City Hospital which was the fever and isolation unit at the time of the outbreak.

Further cases quickly emerged and by the end of May there were 238 suspected cases being treated at various hospitals throughout the city.

By the end of the epidemic a total of 540 cases had been admitted with suspected typhoid with 507 being confirmed as having the disease including 86 children under the age of twelve.

There were three deaths plus an additional eight linked cases treated elsewhere including one in Canada.

Indeed so called “typhoid contact” was a feature of the outbreak and statistics compiled by Dr William Walker shortly after the outbreak indicate that the 507 confirmed cases derived from a mere 309 city households out of a total of around 58,000 households in Aberdeen City.

Public Service Poster Typhoid AberdeenBy June 17th the epidemic was deemed officially over and although many patients would continue to be treated after this date, the number of fresh hospital admissions had dwindled to single figures with no new cases being diagnosed after July 31st.

There have been several such public health epidemics since 1964 with the 1996 Lanarkshire E. coli O157 food poisoning outbreak ranking as being amongst the most devastating.

A total of twenty-one people died in the Lanarkshire E. coli outbreak after eating contaminated meat supplied by a butcher’s shop in Wishaw, Lanarkshire.

In 1998, Sheriff Principal Graham Cox concluded after a two-month inquiry that the shopkeeper, John Barr, had been ignorant of food hygiene procedures and had also deceived food inspectors.

Despite subsequent denials, the William Low supermarket in Aberdeen, which was identified as being the most likely initial source of the typhoid epidemic, also suffered from poor hygiene procedures resulting in contamination of hands, utensils and surfaces and leading to contaminated products being sold for consumption by the public.

In this instance it was proven that a 6 pound can of Argentinian corned beef had been the infective source and that not only had the meat been subject to poor hygiene procedures, but it had also been stored in an un-refrigerated shop window in summer heat leading to an marked increase in the rate of bacterial growth.

Although many associate corned beef with corn, it is in fact a salt cured product treated with “corns” of salt. Used in many cultures as a means of preserving meat it has been variously called Salt Beef, Bully Beef or in India and Bangladesh as Hunter Beef.

A staple for troops at war due to its non-perishable nature, it has been produced on an industrial scale for over 200 years. Although consumption decreased markedly in the period after the Second World War there is still significant global demand for the product, much of which is manufactured in South America.

In the early 1960’s, the UK imported around 200,000 tons of beef from Argentina annually, amounting to around 14% of the nations requirements with a significant proportion being canned corned beef intended both for current consumption and for governmental stockpiling in case of nuclear war.

By 1963 typhoid, an illness caused in the main by poor food hygiene resulting in humans ingesting the bacteria through eating or drinking,  had all but been eradicated in the UK. Public health education combined with improvements to public utilities such as chlorination of water and treatment of sewage had borne fruit.

There had been outbreaks such as that at Croydon in 1937, where after investigation it was found that a sewage worker who was a carrier of typhoid had been allowed to work on the water supply during a period when the water purification plant was out of action. The resulting outbreak affected 344 of which 43 died.

Aberdeen was no stranger to the disease either. An outbreak in the city’s Woodside killed 6 of 35 cases in 1935 with the source being identified as a local shop selling cooked meats.

However the notion that Argentinian corned beef might be a source of the disease seemed to break new ground. Unless that is one takes into account the Harlow typhoid outbreak of June 1963. After extensive testing of public water and sewage supplies proved negative the source was suspected to be a local butchers shop selling imported corned beef.

government officials concerned with overseas trade were apparently not keen to publicly blame the Argentinian factories

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Food (MAFF) began to look at the source of the canned beef and attention soon spotlighted issues to do with the cooling of the cans during manufacture.

Seemingly the possibility of the bacteria surviving the high temperatures used during production was almost zero.

However, since the Argentine factories concerned with the production of British imported corned beef routinely used untreated river water in the cooling process suspicion soon focused on the possibility of contaminated water entering through burst can seams and causing bacterial contamination of the contents.

Following a further outbreak of typhoid at South Shields in June 1963, Enoch Powel Minister of Health was asked in parliament “how many of the recent outbreaks of typhoid fever had been traced to Argentine corned beef and what steps had been taken to warn the public”,  the Ministers reply was simply “None.”

Seemingly politics had intervened and public health had become secondary. The government officials concerned with overseas trade were apparently not keen to publicly blame the Argentinian factories until a diplomatic solution to the issue of untreated river water infected with raw sewage could be found.

There was no immediate action apart from a recommendation that a mere two MAFF meat inspectors should visit a total of sixteen meat producing countries including the Argentine over the following few months.

The government were quite clearly not prepared to risk upsetting a trading partner and worse still, stocks of potentially infected corned beef stored in UK warehouses would continue to be released into the UK food chain despite the possible risk to public health.

A further outbreak took place at Bedford in the October of 1963 but still officials stalled regarding measures which might have prevented further outbreaks.

The Argentine factory identified as the probable source of the infected cans had agreed to introduce chlorination of cooling water by early January 1963 but MAFF held stocks of almost 2.5 million cases of suspect corned beef produced there dating back to 1953.

Eventually, much of the suspect stock would be shipped abroad for consumption elsewhere with a recommendation that it should be re-processed. This process of disposal would take several years to complete.

The effects of the political indifference to the spectre of further typhoid outbreaks were to have far reaching consequences for the city of Aberdeen and indeed the entire North East of Scotland.

Scotland the What parodied the episode in humorous terms:

“I can mind the typhoid epidemic at its worst, we never washed wir hands unless we did the lavvie first”

For many in the North East however it was no joke.

(To be continued)

© Duncan Harley 2014 All rights reserved

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