Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Coronavirus: 'I lost both parents to Covid-19 within a week'

The Stewarts Image copyright Steven Stewart
Image caption The Stewarts died within a week of each other

A Scot living in Australia has lost both his parents within the space of a week after they contracted coronavirus.

Steven Stewart was told that his 70-year-old mother Helen had died suddenly at home in Dalkeith.

Seven days later, his father John had a fatal heart attack in hospital on what would have been his wife's birthday.

The 44-year-old engineer lives with his wife and children in Adelaide, South Australia, having emigrated from Scotland 12 years ago.

His parents fell ill at the start of April.

"When we were talking to them, my mum just kept saying she's got the cold, my dad's got the flu," Mr Stewart said.

"It never crossed my mind what would happen the next two weeks after that. Never crossed my mind."

Until then, John and Helen had led active lives. Helen was a popular figure at a local miners' club, where she had worked as a barmaid for more than 50 years.

John, 71, was a former draughtsman for an oil company and had a part-time job delivering flowers for a local shop.

Image copyright Steven Stewart
Image caption Steven Stewart lost both his parents to coronavirus
Image copyright Steven Stewart

They had enjoyed a series of holidays to Australia, spending time with their son, his wife Carol and their two children.

A few days after they fell ill, John was taken to hospital with breathing difficulties. Helen was still unwell but was able to stay at home. She told her son she was having trouble eating. They spoke by phone every day. Steven was concerned but at that stage neither appeared to be in danger.

On 17 April, Steven didn't get an answer when he phoned his mother. A neighbour called the police, who broke down the door. Helen was found sitting beside the phone.

"When my aunt told me, I had to ask her to say it again. What happened? She told me my mum had passed away. I couldn't comprehend what she was saying. It took me 10, 15 minutes to absorb what she was saying to me."

Devastated

Steven took the responsibility of telling his father. He phoned the ward where he was being treated and broke the news.

"He said exactly the same as me: 'Are you kidding me? Are you kidding?'."

The hospital suspected both Helen and John had been infected with Covid-19, but John appeared to be recovering.

On 23 April, Steven received a second phone call from Scotland, this time from his uncle. He was told his father had taken a turn for the worse.

He spoke to a registrar at the hospital, and was told that his father had suffered a heart attack and only had minutes to live.

"She asked if I had any messages for him. I said just tell him that we love him, that we'll miss him. She phoned me back five minutes later and told me he'd passed away. I've since been told there were four nurses in the room with him so he wasn't alone."

His parents' death certificates both list "presumed coronavirus disease 2019" as being a cause of their death.

Steven said his family in Scotland have been supporting him from 10,000 miles away.

"It's devastated us. It's not just devastated us here, it's devastated my mum's sister, it's devastated my dad's sister, my mum's nephews and nieces and my dad's nephews and nieces. The one thing they want to do is hug me, and we just can't."

Australia has lost 100 people from Covid-19, compared to over 3,500 in Scotland. The country is easing its restrictions, but anyone who leaves requires special permission, and anyone coming back is quarantined for a fortnight. Flights are limited.

For private and practical reasons, Steven was unable to attend his parents' funeral. They were laid to rest beside their son Scott, who died of cancer aged 18.

As soon as he can, Steven plans to travel back to Dalkeith.

"The first thing I'd want to do is go to graveside, take a chair and sit down and have a drink with them. That's what I want to do but I just can't get there."