HOSPICE patients are at the sharp end of complementary therapies thanks to the skills of an ex-cavalryman and his lifelong passion for Chinese medicine and martial arts.

Keith Thomas is using acupuncture to help alleviate the side-effects of drug therapies and symptoms of life-limiting diseases for people attending clinics at St Teresa’s Hospice, as well as conducting tai chi sessions on Zoom.

The Stockton-born therapist developed an interest in martial arts and Chinese culture when he was a child in the 1970s when kung fu legend Bruce Lee topped the cinema bills around the globe.

After leaving school he forsook the family grocery business to join an army cavalry unit, the 15th 19th The King’s Royal Hussars, where he served as crew in armoured vehicles including the Scorpion light reconnaissance tank.

Four years later he left the forces and returned to the family Nisa grocery business in Norton Road, Stockton, before training to be an acupuncturist in the UK and China.

Acupuncture uses long needles just 0.025mm wide on any of the skin’s thousands of pain receptors stimulating nerve pathways and the body’s natural pain relief measures, including the chemicals serotonin and dopamine.

At St Teresa’s, which serves people in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire, the five day a week practice is helping patients cope with the side-effects of treatments, including chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, a tingling sensation and numbness in the hands and feet.

It can also be used to reduce hot flushes, nausea, fatigue, pain and anxiety and, in multiple sclerosis patients, general joint and muscle discomfort.

“In this country it is seen as a complementary therapy but in China it is treated as mainstream medicine,” said Keith. “I worked in a hospital in Beijing and it was enlightening. They have acupuncture doctors and it is just another department in the hospital, a frontline treatment. What is important is that it gets really good results.

“The tai chi is great general exercise, gets you thinking about your breathing and gets your mind and body in harmony.”

St Teresa’s Hospice chief executive Jane Bradshaw said: “Not only does Keith provide acupuncture but he’s also incredibly good at listening, often picking up on other support needs his patients have and referring them on for additional help, such as our family support team, community nurses or indeed back to their GP or district nurse.

“It’s always lovely to hear the feedback from Keith’s patients about the difference even just regularly visiting our hospice makes to their wellbeing. We’re in no doubt though that Keith is a big part of that positive experience.”

St Teresa’s needs to raise £3m a year to provide free services to the community. Hit badly by the COVID-19 pandemic, its vital Hug To St T’s emergency appeal is continuing and donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/campaign/hugtostts.