Covid-19: Frontline worker lost mother treated in same ward

By Louise Cullen
BBC News NI

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media captionJonathan Newell was treated for Covid-19 in the same ward as his mother

"I took her hand and told her we loved her and within about 10 minutes she passed away peacefully."

When Jonathan Newell's mother Martina died with Covid-19 last year, fate kept them together - they were both treated for the virus on the same ward where he worked as a frontline worker.

From March 2020, when the pandemic took hold, Jonathan had volunteered to work on the respiratory ward at Craigavon Area Hospital.

In October, the 45-year-old, his parents and sister all contracted the virus.

Jonathan was admitted by ambulance to hospital on 19 October.

'I couldn't walk'

"I remember seeing someone standing at the bottom of the bed and he said to me: 'Would [you] be able to make it to the ambulance?'," he recalled.

"And at this stage, I just thought, I don't even know if I can get out of bed.

"I made it in stages and I had to come down the stairs on my bottom - I couldn't walk."

Over the next 24 hours, his mother was admitted to Craigavon Area Hospital. His father and sister were taken to Antrim Area Hospital, also with Covid-19.

While his father and sister were discharged within 10 days, Jonathan was intubated for a week and his 68-year-old mother Martina was treated in the intensive care unit at the same time as him.

The nurses arranged a video call between their beds after Jonathan was extubated but he has no memory of that.

Their beds were moved side-by-side before Martina was discharged to the respiratory ward.

A collapsed lung and a chest drain meant it was a couple of days later before Jonathan could follow suit.

image captionMartina Newell, 68, died in a Covid ward in October last year

The following Saturday morning nurses told Jonathan his mother "wasn't so well" and he travelled several beds up the ward to see her again.

"At this stage mum was still awake, she was still able to speak to us," he said.

"I spent about an hour with her, then I got very tired and went to go back and have a wee rest."

Ten minutes later he heard the nurses on the other side of the curtain saying they thought he should be brought back down.

"So the girls got me back out of bed," he said.

"When I went in behind the screen, mum was unconscious. And again, I took her hand and told her we loved her.

"And within about 10 minutes she passed away peacefully."

'To me, it wasn't real'

Jonathan watched her funeral from his hospital bed on a screen.

"I couldn't grieve in the hospital - I couldn't take part with my family at home in the grieving process.

"I couldn't be there to support them over the time of the wake, of the funeral, the burial.

"And to me, it wasn't real."

He left hospital seven weeks ago and expects to be on oxygen until at least the summer - it is likely to be next year before he can return to work.

image captionJonathan is still on oxygen and receiving medical care to recover from the virus

He needs help around the clock and said it has been like returning to childhood.

Covid has changed his life but it did give him one thing many people haven't been able to have - time with his mother as she slipped away.

"I was lucky because I was there to be with her - a lot of our patients have no-one other than the staff who are sitting with them."

But that can mean everything, he said.

"None of our patients have ever died on their own."

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