DEDICATED table tennis coach Dave Ball smiles as he reflects on “the amazing coincidence” that unfolded on the night he nearly died.

Minutes after a playing match at Darlington Table Tennis Academy, Dave was at the centre of an emergency, being taken to hospital by ambulance after collapsing with a seizure.

When he got to Darlington Memorial Hospital’s accident and emergency department, his life was saved by a doctor who just happened to be the father of one of the youngsters he has coached for years.

“It happened on a Tuesday and I don’t remember anything until I woke up in hospital on Friday, but I couldn’t believe it when I found out what had gone on,” says Dave.

He’d been playing a match with 14-year-old Daniel Jones last September and was making his way to his car when he was taken violently ill. It was Daniel who found him, slumped on the floor in the car park, and swiftly sounded the alarm.

Kevin Wray, a stalwart of the academy, called an ambulance and managed to stop Dave choking before he was taken to Darlington Memorial Hospital. where he was resuscitated by Dr Raviprakash Hodigere. The doctor knew his patient well because he has coached his young son Anand for years.

Rachel Ball has no doubt that the doctor saved her husband’s life: “We were told later that it had been touch and go but what he did that night was fantastic, and we can’t thank him enough,” she says.

Dave was placed in an induced coma and tests showed he was suffering from a stage three brain tumour. Surgery and radical radiotherapy followed at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, and Dave is now in the midst of 10 months of grueling chemotherapy.

A year on from the seizure, his battle continues. Whenever he can, he still goes in to work as an assistant manager at Howdens Joinery, in Bishop Auckland, and he’s looking forward to the chemotherapy ending in early December.

“I’m feeling positive and, hopefully, I’ll be able to enjoy Christmas. It’s a question of taking it one day at a time,” he says.

It’s testament to the affection in which he’s held that a steady stream of the youngsters he’s coached four nights a week for the last five years were eager to visit him in hospital and at home.

“The support we’ve had from so many people has been wonderful,” says Rachel.

Dave, who’s played table tennis since childhood, hopes to be back coaching in January but knows it will be a slow process.

In the meantime, Rachel has been working hard to show her appreciation to the team of Macmillan nurses who have been caring for her husband “every step of the way”.

Rachel, a self-employed support worker, carries out some of her duties at Sir ED Walker Homes in Darlington and, with the help of manager Jane Reed, she organised a fundraising coffee morning.

The elderly residents rallied round by baking cakes, and with a raffle and tombola, plus personal donations, £900 was raised.

“We hold a coffee morning every year and usually raise around £400 but Rachel asked if she could get involved this year to say thank you to the Macmillan nurses and we more than doubled it,” says Jane.

Around 80 people turned up for the coffee morning and they were all welcome.

None more so than a certain Dr Raviprakash Hodigere.

STILL on the subject of MacMillan Cancer Care, well done to the pupils and staff of Longfield Academy, in Darlington, for also staging a cake sale as part of the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning.

One particularly enterprising pupil sold me a piece of carrot cake, then added with a smile: “You’re looking quite slim today – would you like an apple pie as well?

I was impressed.

ALAN Frankland, an old friend from last year’s Local Heroes Awards, has been in touch with news of yet more heroics in the swimming pool.

Alan, 86, graced this column last year after he marked the centenary of the end of the First World War by swimming 100 miles in half-mile sessions at his local pool in Redcar.

In doing so, he raised £2,000 for the Royal British Legion.

Well, it seems Alan can’t stop because he’s now embarking of another charity swim – a mere 22 miles this time – in aid of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

“I thought it was time to get back to it,” he says.

It’s impossible not be inspired by the lengths some people go to.

The Northern Echo:

MY dear old Mum is another one who refuses to let age get the better of her.

It was her 88th birthday last week and she still rides a bike to the shops.

“If you write my age with a pencil on a piece of paper – and then erase the left half – that makes me only 33,” she said.

Happy 33rd birthday, Mum.