HE KNOWS the heartbreak of spending Christmas away from his family.
As a schoolboy, James Weston found himself confined to a hospital bed on the eve of the celebrations after collapsing in agony with a crippling pain in his hip.
The Beech Hill man was later diagnosed as suffering from rare Perthes’ Disease, where the top of the thigh bone softens and breaks down.
Now fully recovered and a strapping amateur footballer who recently married, he has never forgotten the experience – or just how profoundly uplifting a visit or a kindness can be when you are stuck in hospital.
So, as the 28-year-old practice manager at Wigan’s Anrich Veterinary Hospital, he has come up with a scheme to help raise a smile among those children now due to spend Christmas in the infirmary’s Rainbow ward.
James, whose dad Richard is principal vet at the practice, has come up with a scheme offering customers a half-price vaccination for pets ...as long as they bring along a toy or a present for young patients over Christmas.
And he has been overwhelmed by the response from pet owners who use the surgery. The growing pile of gifts, which mean that Santa will need several sacks when he calls, will be distributed to the youngsters on Christmas Eve.
They have been collected at Anrich’s three surgeries in Wigan, Hindley and Pemberton.
James took part in his first half-marathon charity fund-raiser for the Perthes’ Association earlier this year.
He said: “I can well remember what it is like to be in hospital over Christmas. The staff make a massive fuss of you and in my case, my mum and dad never missed a visiting session, but it isn’t a nice experience.
“Although the hospitals work hard to make it as nice as possible, you know that your mates are out there, if the snow has come down, sledging and messing about, or showing off the presents that they have received, and you are just desperate to be out there with them.
“And it still can’t ever beat the feeling of being at home with your family, waiting for Santa to pop down the chimney and put your presents under the tree.
“We thought that we would offer clients the opportunity to have their pets vaccinated for £20, which is nearly half-price, as long as they brought a toy or a gift along for the children.
“The response has been just fantastic, and we have had some fantastic presents, along with the teddy bears and bits and bobs, because there is a really nice watch in there as well.
“People have been so generous, we are really overwhelmed and we have had a fantastic response.”