Alan C. Himes with a printout of the XPRESS report that highlighted his plight. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/XPRESS

Dubai: A 71-year-old American, who was homeless and hungry with an unpaid hospital bill of Dh231,000 barely eight months ago, couldn’t thank XPRESS – and the UAE – enough as he left a happy man on a flight to Los Angeles on August 14.

“There’s a difference of night and day from then to now,” Alan C. Himes described his condition hours before departure.

The plight of the septuagenarian, who had suffered a spinal fracture, was first highlighted by XPRESS in a cover story titled ‘Blue Christmas for penniless American’ on December 22, 2016.

“I am near to living on the streets with no food, no money and no chance for work in the UAE. I am desperate and alone,” he had said.

Kind-hearted readers

Shortly thereafter, kind-hearted XPRESS readers got in touch, helping him with his essentials – including food, medication and a leased out roof over his head.

But in what was a major turnaround, the private hospital in Abu Dhabi – Universal Hospital - where Himes had run into the Dh231,000 bill, waived off the amount, paving the way for his return to the US.

“I am thankful to the families who reached out to me. I am very grateful to the Universal Hospital. They not only took good care of me during the 98 days that I spent with them and waived off the money I owed them, they also provided me with an economy class, one-way ticket to fly to Los Angeles,” said Himes.

Dr Shabeer Nellikode, managing director of Universal Hospital, confirmed that he had paid for Himes’ return ticket.

He said, “After taking the decision to waive off his dues on compassionate and empathatic grounds, I just wanted to complete the process and ensure he was home.”

Acknowledging the role of XPRESS in getting Himes’ story out, he said, “You are doing an amazing job.”

Himes said, “The turnaround wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for your article. Thank you XPRESS. My sincere gratitude also goes to St. Mary’s Catholic Church which gave me its stamp of approval and extended its solid support till this very day.” Parish priest Rev Father Lennie Connully of St. Mary’s Catholic Church said, “When Alan Himes approached us to tide over his condition, we decided to help him on humanitarian grounds.” From contacting XPRESS and co-ordinating with the hospital to pitching in with his rent and providing money for his sustenance, the church was with Himes at every stage.

Once bedridden and in terrible pain, Himes said he was happy he could walk now. He said he had no clue what he would do once he reached Los Angeles. “I do not have any family or money there. The economy isn’t too bright either. But I have spent the last few days in prayer and believe in the grace of God who has brought me so far.” As he banked on hope, his sense of humour seemed intact. “I will message you when I land in LA - with pictures of the palm trees, I promise,” he said.