Alex was born August 14th 1989, he was a gutsy, bright boy, very popular at his primary school Dunstall Hill and had many friends. Alex loved Art but his passion was Football. He was a massive Manchester United fan. His brother Nathan was born when Alex was 5 years old. Alex adored him and they became inseparable, Alex was never anywhere without Nathan and they both became well known in the Whitmore Reans area. Alex lived on Austin Street and made many friends there too. Alex excelled in primary school and gained all level 5’s in his SATS.
It was around this time, just before year 6 that Alex’s life was about to change dramatically. Alex was struggling to read the board, was having lots of headaches and always falling asleep in class. Alex left Dunstall in July 2000 and was due to start Aldersley High school in September. Alex was still sleeping a lot, and the headaches continued. After numerous visits to the Doctors and Opticians, nothing could be found. However, a follow up appointment at the eye infirmary which was incidentally delayed by 9 months, unfolded a mother’s worst nightmare. Alex was sent for a CT scan and was told he had a brain tumour. A massive one that had been growing for nearly a year and was attached to his optic nerves.
Alex was admitted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital in November 2000. He had been at secondary school not even a month. Alex was operated on and was in intensive care for almost a month. When Alex came to, he had lost most of his eyesight because of where the tumour was. Alex didn’t understand fully, he was barely 11, the weeks and months that followed were extremely difficult for Alex as he tried to come to terms with his disability. Alex spent weeks having radiotherapy, Nathan stayed off school, he wanted to be with Alex, our lives had been turned upside down. Alex missed a year off school and had home tutoring, which he hated, as the radiotherapy made him extremely tired plus he could hardly see. He really struggled.
There were a lot of individuals and professionals that played a big part in Alex’s recuperation when he left the Children’s Hospital. One lady in particular, Audrey Flintoff (whose name Alex found amusing, as it reminded him of the Flintstones) was a teacher for visually impaired and came to teach Alex how to re-learn, cooking skills and mobility skills. She was amazing and Alex adored her. She was a huge help for him, and for us all. Audrey was the one who put us in touch with the Beacon Centre for The Blind in Wolverhampton. At first, Alex was reluctant to go as he was still trying to come to terms with losing his eyesight. Audrey said that siblings could go attend as well, which ultimately changed Alex’s decision as Nathan could attend too. Nathan, even though he was only 6 years old at the time, was such a huge help to Alex, following him around and making sure he never struggled or tripped on anything. It was at the Beacon Centre where Alex met Leon Hamilton and his brother Dan Hamilton. They became good friends and the relationship continued when both Alex & Leon worked at West Bromwich Albion.
A new school place was found for him at Smestow, which had its own visually impaired unit there. Alex didn’t want to go, he didn’t want to be seen to have a disability. It took a while for him to settle in, but once there he got support in class. Alex soon made lots of friends, and soon became close with two lads, Stefan Lewis and Jason Hill. Alex was very bright; his Maths was brilliant. Alex really loved Art and as part of his exams he painted some abstract Art, it took him a long time but when finished were amazing. He got a C for that, which was better than some of his sighted classmates.His Art teacher Miss Ogden had a soft spot for Alex, she helped him a lot. By the time Alex was to leave Smestow he had really excelled, his personality had come back, he was clever, funny and his determination was inspiring. I was very proud.
When Alex was in Year 10/11 at Smestow School a coach from Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club came in to coach the visually impaired students. The coach himself was partially blind and that inspired Alex to do Football Coaching. Alex attended the City of Wolverhampton College, where he studied the NVQ Level 2 Football Coaching course and then went on to do NVQ Level 3 Football Coaching.
I went with Alex to get him enrolled, we met Joe Jackson and Alex explained about his visual impairment. Joe was reluctant to sign Alex up at first as he said he had never taught anyone with a visual impairment and he was worried how Alex would cope, because of the Alex would need support. I told Joe Alex was more than capable and I had every faith in him. Alex convinced Joe he could do it. Thankfully, Joe gave Alex a chance, he excelled and passed his NVQ Level 2 and 3. All Alex’s work was on time and he was way ahead of all his classmates. Joe was so proud of him and used all Alex’s work after he had left, and until this day as examples of excellent work.
Alex started voluntary work at West Bromwich Albion around 2007, working with young people with disabilities. Whilst there Alex did numerous things, learnt how to play Blind Football which is a variation of Futsal designed for players who are blind or visually impaired, including coaching it. Alex also coached Boccia, a precision ball sport. Alex gave so much to these young people; his thesis was always that:
“Whatever everyone can do, we can do it, we just have to adapt and do it different”.
Alex absolutely loved working there and was there for 8 years right up until August 2015 when Alex became ill again and tragically died October 2015.
By Dawn Clarke, Alex Higgins’s Mother