A RECOVERY truck driver who smoked has created a new support system for patients at a major Scottish hospital after losing a lung to cancer.

Brian Gemmell's life dramatically changed when he went to see his GP with swollen fingertips and discovered they were a symptom of the killer disease.

As he faced a daunting journey of treatment and recovery a chance encounter with another patient, awaiting discharge at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank, reassured him about the road that lay ahead.

After his own operation, this inspired him to propose peer support for other patients and the Golden Jubilee agreed.

Now the service has spread to heart patients at the hospital, which provides cardiac services for Scotland and has one of the largest chest surgery units in the UK.

Mr Gemmell, 51 from East Kilbride, said: "The way I looked at it, if I could help one person and do what that patient did for me, I would be happy."

It was January 2014 when he first noticed a condition known as "finger clubbing," characterised by swollen fingertips, and went to see his GP.

This symptom is associated with advanced lung cancer and Mr Gemmell was urgently sent for a chest x-ray.

Scans revealed a sizeable tumour in the centre of his right lung and within eight weeks he was being admitted to the Golden Jubilee to have the lung removed.

"I did not have time to be scared," he said. "Every day there was something going on."

He avoided researching his condition on the internet and tried to stay positive, but it was meeting someone else who had endured a similar experience which really boosted him.

He said: "When I was admitted into the Jubilee there was a patient departing at the same time. I spent about an hour and a half talking to them because I was waiting for a room and they were waiting for their spouse to come and pick them up. Within that time, I could ask any question I wanted. My wife said to me it was like someone lifting a weight off my shoulders."

As he gradually recovered from his own operation, and adjusted to a "new normal," Mr Gemmell approached the hospital about becoming a volunteer and explained what he wanted to do.

The volunteer manager investigated and agreed with the right paperwork in place it was possible.

Mr Gemmell said: "Some of the surgeons were a bit stand-offish at first. They were not sure about it. But now I am doing it, the surgeons think what I do does help."

He has had to give up his vehicle recovery service because it was too physically demanding.

But he has found a new interest in personal training and every Tuesday he talks to post-operative patients on the wards at the Golden Jubilee. "A lot of it is about how normal a life they can get back and when the pain starts to ease," said Mr Gemmell. "If you have had major surgery you are going to be in pain and you have breathlessness you have never had before."

Jackie Dunn, thoracic surgery nurse specialist, said: "The patients appreciate it. It gives them a completely different perspective... "There is also comfort from the fact that they will start to feel better and they will start to feel stronger. When a nurse or doctor is telling you that it is hard for that to feel possible, but when a patient is telling you, you can believe it."

Dubbed a "patient peer" Mr Gemmell has been joined in his work by Andrew Nelson, a former heart patient. They share their experiences and provide emotional support to patients under the guidance of cardiothoracic rehab nurses.

Volunteers also help at the hospital in a range of roles including meeting and greeting, befriending and doing quality checks. Their work is being celebrated as part of Volunteers Week.