Ann Whelan pictured on oxygen in her hospital bed.
A coronavirus survivor from Derry has praised hardworking hospital staff and issued a warning that the disease is a ‘killer’ to anyone who may be overlooking the seriousness of the current pandemic.
Ann Whelan was hospitalised in recent weeks but managed to overcome the illness.
The Derry woman has spent extended periods in hospital over the past two months after first being admitted on February 22 with pneumonia in both lungs.
Coronavirus was not diagnosed at that stage and it was instead believed to be linked to her underlying condition - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - a type of obstructive lung disease characterised by long-term breathing problems and poor airflow.
Ann, who lives in the Northland Road area of the city, spent 14 days in hospital on a high flow oxygen machine.
She was subsequently discharged but still wasn’t feeling great and was eventually re-admitted on March 21 at which point she tested positive for COVID-19.
“When I tested positive I just thought, oh my God, it was a shock to me but I just thought I am not letting this beat me,” she said.
“I was lucky that I caught it then second time because if I had caught it the first time I was in I don’t think I’d be sitting here talking to you today.”
As a person with COPD, the 57-year-old falls into one of the high-risk categories.
It is therefore a testament to her determination and courage that she pulled through.
“I'm delighted to say I'm a coronavirus survivor, I wish to thank the nurses, doctors, paramedics and the cleaners to name a few for everything especially for putting themselves at risk taking care of everyone with coronavirus,” she said.
Symptoms Ann experienced mirror those commonly publicised by experts.
“I was very out of breath, but I would be anyway so I assumed it was COPD.
“I had a cough but I put it down to being the flu to be honest.”
On March 21, Ann was taken straight to Ward 31 – the designated ward for coronavirus patients at Altnagelvin Hospital – by two nurses and one returned with full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on.
That night she was moved to a room where she was given high flow oxygen because she ‘couldn’t even speak without it’.
After a week in that room she was moved to another where she gradually improved and didn’t need the oxygen machine.
While in hospital she witnessed other patients who were struggling and in a worse condition because of coronavirus.
Isolation from family members since the coronavirus outbreak, particularly her grandchildren, and not being allowed visitors while in hospital has been extremely difficult.
Family kept in touch through text messages and a ‘family chat’ group set up by her daughter“The hardest part is not seeing my grand wains, that just breaks my heart.”
Ann said the doctors, nurses, cleaners, auxiliary staff at Altnagelvin Hospital deserve medals.
“They were absolutely fantastic, there was nothing that they wouldn’t do for you, they were so amazing.
“And they put themselves at risk to look after us. You have to admire them.”
She added: “Some politicians want to hang their heads in shame for the way they have treated nurses and now Boris Johnson is being put in a special category because he’s got coronavirus.
“Politicians should take a pay cut or a pay freeze for 20 years and give nurses what they deserve.”
Now, despite being through the worst of it Ann is still limited in what activities she can do.
“It takes its toll on you,” she explained, “even things like getting up and going to the toilet can be difficult. I started feeling normal a couple of days before getting out of hospital but I still have to take it easy.”
Practicing Reiki and ‘the power of prayer’ have helped to pull her through.
Derry businesses and the public have been exemplary in their efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus at a local level.
But Ann had a message for anyone who may not be taking it seriously.
“Stay home,” she said.
“They’re not saying that for the sake of it, they need you to stay home in order to save lives.
“Any parent out there letting their children run wild, you want to hang your heads in shame because this is a killer.
“It's no joke being in a room hooked up to oxygen not able to get out of the bed nobody to talk to and not allowed to see family and friends.
“Stay home, be responsible, because you have parents, grandparents, grandchildren and relatives out there who could catch this and you might never see them again.”
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