A butcher from Carmarthen who has battled two serious illnesses in the past four years is determined to get his health back on track with the help of a life-changing TV show.
Four years ago Matthew Rees had sepsis and had to undergo emergency treatment in hospital and then, after recovering from a clot on the lungs following a Covid-19 infection in 2020, Matthew piled on more than five stone.
Taken by his sister Rachel to hospital when he found he couldn’t breathe doctors told the 46-year-old that had he waited for an ambulance he would not have survived.
Now fully recovered and doing well, Matthew is now keen to turn his attention to improving his lifestyle and be fit enough to take a full part in coaching junior rugby and football teams.
He jumped at the chance of being a health leader on S4C’s popular FFIT Cymru series, made by Caernarfon-based production company Cwmni Da and presented by Lisa Gwilym, with the programme being shown at 9pm on Tuesday evenings.
Over a two-month period Matthew and the four other leaders from all over Wales are aiming to transform their health by following bespoke fitness and food plans set by the programme’s four experts, including former Love Island contestant and fitness coach Connagh Howard.
Matthew has been joined in the programme by Kelly O’Donnell, 41, a teaching assistant from Bethel near Caernarfon; Andrea Davies-Tuthill, 52, a hospital theatre nurse from Merthyr Tydfil; social worker Linette Gwilym,33, from Llanrug near Caernarfon, and chapel minister Dylan Parry, 34, originally from Caernarfon but now living in Bridgend in South Wales.
At the start of the programme’s third week Matthew travelled with the others to the Llaeth y Llan dairy in Llannefydd, near Denbigh, and created two new recipes for the successful company’s online cookbook, using the fat free yogurts recently introduced by the family business.
During the visit Matthew recalled how desperately ill he had been after being struck down by Covid.
He said: “A clot formed in my lung and I couldn’t breathe. My sister is a nurse and she took me to hospital. At one point she thought I had died in the car. Doctors said if waiting for an ambulance would have been too late.”
He was in intensive care for 24 hours and had to stay in hospital over Christmas.
Speaking about his weight gain – at the start of FFIT Cymru he tipped the scales at 26 stone – Matthew said: “I came out of hospital and couldn’t do anything., I couldn’t even climb the stairs It was too much effort. I couldn’t breathe.
“Some people come out of hospital feeling like they’ve had had a second chance but I went the other way and enjoyed drinking and eating.
“I need to sort myself out because I’ve put on more than five stone since being ill. That has to stop I need to turn the corner and go back to how I used to be or even better than I should be.
“I’m enjoying the challenge but I’m more determined than ever to turn my life around.”
Matthew coaches rugby and football teams in his home village of Nantgaredig on the outskirts of Carmarthen but feels he’s not yet fit enough to be coaching and feels he has to stand at the side setting up drills for the youngsters.
Matthew lives with his wife Lydia and is the father of two children with his former partner – Hanna, 11, and Tomos, 9. Lydia has two boys with her former partner. He works as a butcher for the family business in the market at Carmarthen.
He has been joined in the programme by Kelly O’Donnell, 41, a teaching assistant from Bethel near Caernarfon; Andrea Davies-Tuthill, 52, a hospital theatre nurse from Merthyr Tydfil; Linette Gwilym, 33, a social worker from Llanrug near Caernarfon and Rev Dylan Parry, 34, a chapel minister originally from Caernarfon but now living in Bridgend, south Wales.
During the initial stages Matthew and Dylan were advised not to take part in the running activities by the medical team because of their high blood pressures.
Matthew said he was “devastated” by the news.
“It was a shock, I’m quite a competitive person. I was looking forward to that part of the day and the fact I couldn’t compete was a real blow,” he said.
The latest step in the journey took the health leaders to Llaeth y Llan where director Owain Roberts said the company was responding to the demand for healthy foods and changing eating trends by making a fat free Greek-style yogurt.
“It is a fairly new product and has been a success for the company. And we now offer interesting recipes that include yogurt as one of the main ingredients, and the task for the leaders was to create a two course meal using yogurt as one of the main ingredients.
Matthew, Kelly and Andrea stuffed a chicken fillet with cream-cheese, garlic and Llaeth y Llan yogurt and wrapped it in Carmarthen Ham and served with sauteed spinach and roasted tomatoes on the vine. Made by Matthew’s family for generations he said the meat, which his family proudly sell on their stall in Carmarthen Market, is first salted for five to six weeks and then hung for up to nine months. He had brought it with him to Llannefydd especially for the programme.
He claimed when the Romans visited the town hundreds of years ago they had taken the recipe back to Italy and from it Parma Ham emerged.
“It’s a story my grandfather often told and some believe him and others don’t,” he smiled.
Linette linked up with Dylan to make a baked cheesecake garnished with strawberries, rasperries, blueberries and mint.
Owain Roberts gave the thumbs up to both recipes which will soon be available the Llaeth y Llan website, www.villagedairy.co.uk
Connagh Howard, who hails from Cardiff, is responsible for setting and supervising the weekly challenges which feature in the programme.
“Fitness is something that has always been a big part of my life and having the opportunity to help others with that is such an incredible experience and I’m just really proud to be able to help people,” he said.
The other experts include personal trainer Rae Carpenter, psychologist Dr Ioan Rees, and dietician and former Great British Bake Off star Beca Lyne-Pirkis.
Series producer Siwan Haf said: “FFIT Cymru is essentially about taking a group of people who want to transform their lives and showing them how they can improve through healthy eating, improved fitness and improved mental health.
“It’s a unique multimedia platform that can offer guidance and a practical helping hand.
“Viewers can take part at home too by following the special food and fitness plans online on the FFIT Cymru website, www.s4c.cymru/fitcymru, and on social media @ffitcymru for free.
FFIT Cymru is broadcast on S4C on Tuesday evenings at 9pm. English subtitles are available. The programme can be seen on demand at S4C Clic, BBC iPlayer and other streaming platforms.