Happy to be in the local picture
Tim Lindop, MCTV’s 57-year-old technical coordinator, says he owes his life to a chemotherapy regimen he received when returning to this country from Peru 2½ years ago with his liver functioning at just 5 percent of capacity because of hepatitis C, and owes his return to work to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. Recorder/Micky Bedell
TURNERS FALLS — There’s always another story for Tim Lindop to shoot for Montague Community Television, whether it’s this week’s selectmen’s meeting or last month’s finance board session.
But Lindop has his own story — one that’s taken him to the Amazon, the Chinese border with Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere. It’s also taken him close to death, with a diagnosis of hepatitis C.
MCTV’s 57-year-old technical coordinator says he owes his life to a chemotherapy regimen he received when returning to this country from Peru 2½ years ago with his liver functioning at just 5 percent of capacity and owes his return to work to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. But he’s not sure how he contracted hepatitis C, the liver-destroying virus carried by an estimated 3 million to 4 million Americans.
“By the time I was spotted with hepatitis C,” Lindop told a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce audience recently, his doctor had told him he had just a year or two to live, and that his only hope of survival was a liver transplant, which he had only a 30 percent chance of getting in time. “I wasn’t quite sure how to approach life at that point. It was either get a transplant and live a few extra years or curl up in a corner and say my life is pretty much over. The odds were pretty much against me surviving.”
The disease can be contracted by coming in contact with someone whose blood is infected with the virus, by sharing needles, for example, or through blood transfusions before 1992, when testing for the virus came into common practice.
But Lindop, whose 30-year career as a cameraman has included assignments for Fox News, Al Jazeera, ABC, CBS and PBS affiliates in Boston, The History Channel, The Travel Channel, Aninmal Planet and more, told the chamber gathering of a few seemingly bizarre possibilities when he might have contracted the illness.
“I’ve had a very exciting working life traveling out and around through the Third World,” he said. In Haiti, where he worked during the military regime of the early 1990s and the U.S.-led intervention that returned Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the 1990s, “the troops were on a killing spree because they knew their times were numbered. They went into City Soleil, the large slum that ringed the city, and dragged people out at night and burned them on lampposts while you slept … There was blood everywhere, and as you can imagine, it wasn’t necessarily the cleanest blood.”
Another possibility, he pointed to, was when he worked in Kyrgyzstan and ate “rat-on-a-stick” on the Chinese border in the Tian Shan Mountains.
In the Third World, he told the chamber group, “I got to do things … just so I could say I did it. Watching the smugglers go back and forth, (I saw) there was a man with a grill feeding these smugglers with grilled rats, and I thought to myself, ‘This is my one opportunity to be able to say I ate rat on a stick.’ So I gave him the money and just started chewing on it.”
Lindop also related his story of working in the Ecuadorian-Peruvian Amazon in 2001, working on a story on oil production and “living among a tribe of headhunters,” the Achuar, as they tried to keep oil companies off their land.
“It was not necessarily the sagest time I felt in my life,” Lindop said, “... one of the shamans, when I saw his collection of shrunken heads and exclaimed, like most Westerners, ‘How do you do that?’ — he showed me, he taught me how to shrink a head. How many people can say they learned from the master himself how to shrink a head?”
Lindop, who had a series of serious driving accidents while commuting from Amherst to assignments in New York, Boston and Albany, says he was first told by a doctor in the 1990s that the newly discovered disease was likely the cause of his extreme fatigue and that there wasn’t a cure.
“They told me at that time not to worry, that in my late 50s it would start showing up, and by that time something else might kill me,” he said. When the symptoms — especially exhaustion and a clouded brain caused by his deteriorating liver — worsened, years later, doctors in Peru, where he was living with his wife and children, gave him antibiotics to deal with his infection.
But when he returned to this country about 2½ years ago, “just in time for the Halloween snowstorm,” he was given two rounds of chemotherapy that included interferon, a mix that “was a race to the finish between my body curing itself and my mind melting into protoplasm. I was just shot.”
Doctors stopped the treatment, telling him that it had pushed back the blood-borne virus and that if he was lucky, the Food and Drug Administration might approve a new drug late in 2014 that could cure hepatitis C. But the interferon treatments left Lindop unable to function, and certainly not at the breakneck pace he’d known as a freelance cameraman bouncing between work on “Hardball with Chris Mathews,” “The O’Reilly Factor” and “Good Morning America.”
“I couldn’t work. I was scattered. I didn’t know what to do,” said Lindop, who turned to Mass Rehab — the same state agency that had helped him attend the University of Massachusetts when he was young and trying to recover in another, troubled time of his life.
“Maybe I thought if I planned for the future, there’d be a future I’d have,” said Lindop, adding that when he discovered he had very little life to live, he found himself loving his children, 10 and 13, “more than I ever thought possible. I wanted to be there for them.”
Lindop, who had bought a house in Greenfield in 2001 and now lives in a Greenfield apartment, said he also turned to the communications office of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, for which he’d worked earlier as a cameraman, and was welcomed back to do freelance assignments.
“What I found to be most important was the relationships, not just with your kids but with the people around you. What Mass Rehab does very well … they don’t have a lot of money but they make up for it with the relationships they develop with their clients. They were there for me as I went up and down. They were encouraging, they were trying. There were times when they’d offer me something and I’d say ‘I’ll get to it,’ but I never did, and that didn’t stop them from prodding, from trying, from taking an interest. And it didn’t stop them from caring, and that made a big difference in my life.”
Mass Rehab even bought Lindop clothes to wear for his interview.
At MCTV, Lindop says, “I get to be part of the community I never thought I’d be a part of. It’s one of the things you give up when you decide you’re going to live this kind of life that you can brag about to your grandchildren. One of the things you can’t brag about is the friends and connections you have back home, because there aren’t any.”
Here, without the thrills, he said, “It’s really nice being valued.”
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You can reach Richie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 269