19 May 2022

'Covid turned our lives upside-down' - wife of Laois man who defied death

'Covid turned our lives upside-down' - wife of Laois man who defied death

The wife of a Laois man who almost died from Covid-19 has shared her experience, to remind people how dangerous it is, and ask for support for a Portlaoise nurse’s fundraiser. 

Patricia and Gerard ‘Jack’ McHugh are Dubliners now living in rural Portarlington. Jack was diagnosed on April 4 this year and by April 10 was brought by ambulance to Portlaoise hospital where within hours he was placed into intensive care on a respiratory unit.

“He deteriorated through the week and by Friday I got a call saying they were ready to intubate Jack. He asked for a couple of days because of the fear, they had been very blunt in saying it can go very wrong when someone is intubated,” Patricia recalls. 

“I was allowed in on Saturday before he was intubated on Sunday for a very brief visit. I was in full PPE. After he was intubated it all went very wrong, and his condition changed to ‘end of life’. I called in on Monday to say my goodbyes. There was a delay then in them turning off the life support, and then the staff noticed a trickle of urine from Jack’s kidneys.”

She said that Dr Masood in the ICU got on the phone to the ECMO team in the Mater Hospital to ask for help. An ECMO machine takes blood from a patient and reoxygenates it, effectively an artificial lung.  

“They called the Mater hospital to say ‘we think there is a bit of hope here’. Dr Carton from the ECMO team decided he wanted his team to come down and see Jack himself. 

“They came down with a critical ambulance crew and a heart ambulance crew and the ECMO machine. They put him on the machine in Portlaoise and then he travelled up to the Mater, they told me the chance of getting him there alive was pretty slim. 

“I will never forget the dignity they showed to Jack. He was end of life, he was not meant to survive. It was a miracle, thanks to the quick action of the Portlaoise ICU team and Dr Masood,  Dr Carton told me that he couldn’t give a guarantee but he just wanted to give him a chance.

“If this had happened last year at the height of Covid, there is no way Jack would have gotten that chance. There were only four ECMO machines in Ireland, now there are seven. It’s a lottery,” Patricia said.

Below: Jack before and after his induced coma to save his life. 

Jack is still very slowly recovering in the Mater, undergoing intense physiotherapy to learn to walk again. The plan is for him to eventually be transferred back to Portlaoise hospital and then home, but that might be next year. It has been a lonely road for Patricia.

“We are devastated, it’s absolutely horrific, some days I am still so overwhelmed. Just three weeks ago he had sepsis. 

“We want to hammer home to people just what this disease can do. Unless you are living it, you see it with your own eyes, you can’t comprehend it. Seeing those doctors’ faces, you can see how distraught they are. Dr Carton said to me ‘for every punch we give it, Covid comes back with two’. I remember Dr Masood calling it ‘this godforsaken disease’. They are baffled themselves the way it keeps coming back at them. 

“We don’t know now what we are facing, with long Covid. There is a massive big hole where our life used to be,” she said. 

The couple have two grown children Amy and Jessica, and two grandchildren Alex and Lily. 

The Mater staff arranged a very special short visit recently for Jack’s grandchildren on a private staff terrace, where the children got to hug their grandad in an emotional reunion (pictures below).

“They go above and beyond. I said to Dr Carton, I’d take Jack home in whatever condition he is in, just don’t have me to tell his grandchildren their granddad is gone.

“He has had huge weight loss, and his mobility will come back. He remembers nothing, God gave him that gift. But his cognition seems to be unaffected,” said his wife.

Nurse Gerard Hosey and the Portlaoise ICU team ring the Mater every week to ask after Jack. Now Gerard has started a Gofundme in aid of the ECMO unit, and is walking 100 miles for it.

“We are very struck by Gerard’s generosity. He works so hard, it’s full on in the ICU. He is so grateful to the Mater for keeping his patient alive as he calls Jack. They have a huge connection. He was there when we said our goodbyes. All we could do was tell each other we had no regrets. I remember my gut telling me it wasn’t going to be good, but I prayed. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Cases like Jack's very rarely come back. 

I am not looking for glory, I want to push Gerard’s cause now , but I also want to give hope. There are 33 people in the ICU now I think, and where there is life there is hope. This is a celebration for him, to say thank you. 

“To the people who don’t believe, the anti-vaxxers, they are entitled to their opinion, but Covid exists, just take a look. Someone said to me Jack was only one case, but does it have to be thousands? Covid turned our life upside down, it robbed us of time we will never get back. Thank God for the hands of the medical teams Jack has around him, we are forever grateful,” Patricia McHugh said.

“On his 100th day in hospital, they told me it would probably be another 12 months before he was ready to come home. You feel like you're living someone else’s life. But we will come out of it stronger,” she said. 

Read about Nurse Gerard Hosey’s fundraiser here. 

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