A man shot and paralyzed in Belfast in 1979 is reunited with an ‘angel’ nurse who took care of him

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A man shot and paralyzed 40 years ago during the Troubles in Belfast has been reunited with the nurse who took care of him while he recovered in hospital for a year.

Peter Heathwood was left in a wheelchair after two gunmen broke into his home and opened fire in 1979 – after mistaking him for his tenant, a suspected member of the IRA.

He was transferred to the back injury ward at Musgrove Park Hospital, where he was tied up in a rotating bed that felt like a coffin and met a nurse nicknamed Betsy.

Peter appeared on the BBC2 show Saved By A Stranger 40 years after the attack and tracked down the kind-hearted nurse who lived just six miles from his Belfast home.

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Peter Heathwood was left in a wheelchair after two gunmen broke into his home and opened fire in 1979 – after mistaking him for his tenant, a suspected member of the IRA.

“I’ve always been a Belfast boy, born and raised,” said Peter. “My mother and father were very religious, Catholic religious.”

Peter says the first event of a conflict he remembers is the internment in August 1971 – in which hundreds of Catholics and Nationalists were arrested and imprisoned without trial in a series of raids by British forces that sparked resistance across Northern Ireland.

But for Peter, the real eye-opener was Bloody Sunday, a 1972 massacre in Derry when British soldiers shot 26 civilians in a protest march against internment.

“That was incredible,” said Peter. ‘That had a tremendous effect. I became aware within my generation that guys I went to school with were going to the IRA. I was annoyed, but luckily I didn’t take that path, but I know guys who did. ‘

Appearing on the BBC2 show Saved By A Stranger 40 years after the attack, Peter tracked down the kind-hearted nurse who took care of him while he recovered in the hospital for a year.

Appearing on the BBC2 show Saved By A Stranger 40 years after the attack, Peter tracked down the kind-hearted nurse who took care of him while he recovered in the hospital for a year.

After the attack, Peter was transferred to the back injury ward at Musgrove Park Hospital, where he was tied up in a rotating bed that felt like a coffin.

After the attack, Peter was transferred to the back injury ward at Musgrove Park Hospital, where he was tied up in a rotating bed that felt like a coffin.

Despite the turmoil around him, Peter bought a house in the north of the city, the epicenter of the violence where sectarian attacks were common, after being lured by cheaper prices.

“We looked at houses in the south of the city, then houses would have been 12,500 pounds,” said Peter. ‘In the north of Belfast, beautiful big houses were £ 6,000 – my father was against it. [He said] it’s filthy, don’t get close to it, unfortunately I didn’t listen to him ‘.

Peter had planned to use a tenant’s money to eventually buy another property and rent a room to a taxi driver – whom he described as a “quiet” man who kept himself to himself.

But on September 27, 1979, two men broke into their home and opened fire on Peter.

The doorbell rang, Anne got up. Then I heard her “shooters, shooters!” Calling, Peter recalled. ‘When someone said that in Belfast in the 1970s, she wasn’t messing around.

Peter said that Betsy came to the rescue in the hospital and that he had always wanted to thank her for her support during his recovery

Peter said that Betsy came to the rescue in the hospital and that he had always wanted to thank her for her support during his recovery

I jumped up but found myself in a back room and there was no way out, there was one door in and one door out. I went behind the door. This shooter had her [Anne] by the hair he drew her into the room with his right hand.

He saw me at the last minute. He let Anne go and I pulled Anne in and hit him with the door. He went back into the hallway, I put my body against the door and pushed a bar on the door. ‘

A second gunman opened fire through the door and Peter remembers unable to get up until he passed out.

The paramedics arrived but couldn’t get the trolley into the back room, so they put me in a body bag to carry me to the ambulance.

They soon discovered that she later became a mental health nurse in Downpatrick, a small town six miles south of Belfast, and Peter was delighted that she agreed to meet him again.

They soon discovered that she later became a mental health nurse in Downpatrick, a small town six miles south of Belfast, and Peter was delighted that she agreed to meet him again.

Peter said to Betsy: 'You know what surprises me, we live ten kilometers apart and I have never met you in town'

Peter said to Betsy: ‘You know what surprises me, we live ten kilometers apart and I have never met you in town’

It was then that my father in the car and other family members arrived at the front door. Daddy who saw me in the body bag thought I was dead. And his last words were “Oh, my poor Peter” and he fell dead in the street. ”

What is the timeline of the problem and peace process in Northern Ireland?

August 1969:

The British government first sent troops to Northern Ireland to restore order after three days of riots in Catholic Londonderry

January 30, 1972:

On ‘Bloody Sunday’ 13 civilians are shot by the British army during a civil rights march in Londonderry

March 1972

The Stormont government is dissolved and the administration is imposed by London

70s:

The IRA begins its bloody campaign of bombing and murders in Britain

April 1981

Bobby Sands, a Republican on hunger strike at Maze Prison, is elected to parliament. He dies a month later

October 1984

An IRA bomb detonated at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Margaret Thatcher is staying during the Tory Party conference

Early nineties:

Margaret Thatcher and then Sir John Major set up a secret back-channel with the IRA to start peace talks. The communication was so secret that most ministers were unaware of it.

April 1998

Tony Blair helps broker the Good Friday Agreement, hailed as the end of trouble.

It establishes the Northern Ireland Assembly with David Trimble as the Prime Minister.

2000s:

With a few exceptions, the peace process continues and republican and loyalist paramilitaries retire their weapons

May 2011

The Queen and Prince Philip pay a state visit to Ireland, the first since George V.

In a hugely symbolic moment, the queen is portrayed shaking hands with Martin McGuinness – a former IRA leader.

It soon became apparent that not Peter was the intended target of the attack, but his tenant, who was believed to be a member of the IRA.

Peter was transferred to the back injury ward at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast, where he was cared for for nearly a year by a nurse who used the nickname Betsy.

His entire body was tied up in a revolving rocking bed, which routinely swung side to side to keep bone from clinging to the skin.

“I always put it down like a coffin,” said Peter. “You know you’re trapped in a coffin. And you can imagine that you are in the hospital.

‘All this time and loneliness, and at night you didn’t sleep at night because of the sweating and discomfort of it.

Peter said that Betsy came to the rescue in the hospital and that he had always wanted to thank her for her support during his recovery.

‘When I was in the turntable. When I opened my eyes it looked like Betsy was standing there with a cold cloth wiping the sweat on my forehead and talking to me and it was just like an angel from heaven when you’re in that half drugged state she would that may well have been an angel. ‘

‘It always struck me. Her kindness didn’t make me feel completely useless or busted, you know? And I never thanked her. ‘

While searching for the nurse, Peter and host Anita Rani found a man who worked in the same hospital as Betsy, whose job included making prostheses for victims of the Troubles.

He recalled another nurse who worked with Betsy and revealed that she left to get married in the early 80’s. Their investigation revealed that her maiden name was Gilbert and that Betsy was short for Elizabeth.

They soon discovered that she later became a mental health nurse in Downpatrick, a small town six miles south of Belfast. After contacting Betsy, Peter was delighted that she agreed to meet him again.

“Back here in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, our doctors and nurses saved hundreds of lives and I don’t think they ever got the credit they deserved,” he said.

“So it’s important to thank them in those dark days when it meant something, and it still does.”

When Peter entered the room to see Betsy for the first time in nearly 40 years, he said, “Hello! Long time no see.’

He continued: “You know what surprises me, we live six miles apart and I’ve never met you in town.

‘I am alive, I am not unhappy. Even though I have experienced. In all those bad times and horrors your smiling face stands out, I tell you now that I can still see it. And just that simple bit of kindness. ‘

Thinking about the meeting, he added: ‘Still a beautiful woman, still smiling the same little smile. In times of murder and chaos, when you meet such people, you realize that not everyone is bad. There are always good people in this world, and Betsy is one of them. ‘

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