Why a Hong Kong community is helping a British expat raise money for a one-way ticket home
Cancer patient and long-time city resident David Coates, 61, is struggling to afford a flight back to see his loved ones for a final time
David Coates, 61, has lived in Hong Kong for 21 years and never thought he would say goodbye to his adopted hometown this way. Battling stage four stomach cancer, he longs to return to his native Middlesbrough in Britain to hug his mother, 89, and tour the countryside with his wife and daughter for a last hurrah.
Coates was diagnosed about a month ago and only a few years after his wife recovered from breast cancer. Doctors estimate that if chemotherapy is successful, he has another six months to live.
Help has been pouring in from the local community in Tuen Mun, where Coates lives with his family, to enable him to buy a one-way air ticket for a return to Britain. After financing his and his wife’s medical treatments, Coates is struggling to make ends meet. His income stream has dwindled over the past six months ever since his headhunting business started winding down.
Fresh business opportunities emerged recently, but by then he had already received the devastating news about his illness.
“We got virtually wiped out,” he recalls of last year. “It was so frustrating.”
Subdued and sitting in a wheelchair, Coates described the simultaneous timing of the lucrative prospects and onset of serious illness as “ironic”.
The cancer has spread to his pancreas and lymph nodes. The once overweight man lost 30kg in a month.
Side effects from the treatment have been equally damaging. As his body retains fluid, medical care is continuously required.
His wife, Ann Mari, who is in her 50s, works as a private tutor. But her earnings were not enough to support the family. The dire financial situation has also disrupted their 14-year-old daughter’s schooling. They have been selling furniture to make money.
“Life has just changed for us,” Mari said.
Joan Bouttell, who lives near the Coates and has known them for eight years, joined forces with several neighbours and raised at least HK$70,000 (US$8,900) in a week to help send the family home.
“David has become extremely ill very fast. It’s quite a shock to everybody here,” she said, adding that hospital staff noted his condition was not suitable for further treatments.
“He is too sick. He wants to be with his mother.”
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“Everybody here in Hong Kong has high rents and school fees to pay, and elderly at home,” she added.
“Everybody can give a little bit to someone. If a lot of people turn up and each give an amount, then we will have a good sum to help.”
Coates said he was trying to approach his illness with a positive mindset.
“I once thought, ‘Why me?’ To me, it’s fate or karma, or the wheel of life turning. I don’t know.”
“The thing I’d say to people is: if you have things you want to do, any dreams or ideas, then do it now!”
Coates said the only item on his wish list was to be with his family, including his mother and relatives in Middlesbrough.
“I thought this was going be our forever home,” he added. “But life has a way of surprising you. What I need to do is get well enough for a two-day window, so I can travel back to the United Kingdom.”
Coates recalled talking to his mother on the phone recently and noticing how weak her voice was.
“It would just be reassuring for her to have me there, not 6,000 miles away.”