A County Down pastor who was admitted to intensive care with coronavirus has been allowed out of hospital.
Mark McClurg, of Newtownards Elim Church, thanked staff as he left the Ulster Hospital after overcoming the virus.
“I just want to thank the thousands of doctors and nurses across the NHS for saving our lives,” he said.
The 40-year-old father-of-three, who has no underlying health conditions, said he thought he was going to die.
I have some amazing news. I’m leaving the Ulster Hospital. I want to thank everyone for their prayers. I want to thank the staff at the Ulster Hospital for saving my life. I looking forward to enjoying life. Overcome #Coronavirus. Be kind. Jesus is my healer. Please retweet this pic.twitter.com/m3Lhq9Gsk2— Mark McClurg (@Mark_McClurg) March 29, 2020
“I thought this was it, I thought I was going to die,” he told BBC Radio Ulster's The Nolan Show.
At least 21 people have died with coronavirus in Northern Ireland, where there are currently 410 confirmed cases.
'Like trying to breathe underwater'
Mr McClurg first developed symptoms at home two weeks ago after having difficulty breathing, despite not having a cough.
“I came upstairs and my wife was putting the children to bed and I said to Claire: ‘I can’t breathe.’
“I contacted one of my community nurses and told her about my symptoms; she told me to go to A&E.
"I was taken into triage and they took my vitals and saw my oxygen was low.
“My temperature was over 38 and growing. I was swab tested and the first test came back negative.”
He described the symptoms of the virus as “like trying to breathe under water, it’s like you’re gasping.”
“By Saturday I had no more energy. The doctor had to put a tube in to sedate me.
“I didn’t feel I had any lung capacity to breathe.
“It’s like you’re running a marathon, you’re out of breath and you’re knackered.
He said he phoned his wife and told her: “Claire, I think I’m going to die here.
“The coronavirus consumes your lungs and it sucks the life out of you.
“Every time you see someone dying from coronavirus, they’re dying alone.
“They've got nobody, it’s heartbreaking. No one’s holding their hand or saying goodbye.
“It’s cruel. It just breaks you."
Claire, Mr McClurg's wife, described the "nightmare" her family had been through.
She recalled the moment doctors told her he would have to be put on a ventilator and would lose consciousness as a result of the intervention to save his life.
"It really hit home and I got very scared," Mrs McClure told the BBC's Talkback programme.
"And I said: 'He's going to be OK, isn't he?'
"All the doctor could say was: 'We'll do our best.'
'I just prayed'
"And I knew that was all she could say, but that wasn't the words I wanted to hear, so I just got down on my knees and I just prayed."
Mr McClurg has now been discharged from hospital, but is staying with a friend as he must self-isolate for another seven days. The couple also want to protect their three young children from exposure to the virus.
He emphasised the importance of adhering to social distancing measures.
“We need to get a message out," he said. "If you end up in ICU with coronavirus you will struggle to breathe.
“I shouldn’t be here. I saw the faces of the nurses and doctors in the ICU.
"They’ve come to terms with the fact that at some stage they’re going to get coronavirus.
“People going into the ICU are dying now. If we don’t keep six feet apart we’re going to end up six feet under."