One of the UK's longest-suffering COVID patients has revealed he was confronted by a conspiracy theorist during his 10-month stay in hospital and heard bogus claims that the virus is a hoax.
Cancer survivor Andy Watts, 40, told Sky News he feared he would die after falling seriously ill with coronavirus in December last year.
The father-of-two spent eight months in intensive care, including five weeks in an induced coma, when doctors considered switching off his ventilator after his condition deteriorated.
But after a remarkable recovery, he finally left the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, southeast London, in October - 300 days after being admitted for treatment.
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Now, as the government urges people to have booster shots of the COVID vaccine to help avoid Christmas restrictions, Mr Watts has revealed some visitors in his hospital ward believed the virus was a hoax despite his ordeal.
He said he was confronted by one person visiting a non-COVID patient who told him the virus was "all a conspiracy".
Mr Watts told Sky News: "There were people in the hospital in the ward I was in, who were visiting certain patients, who didn't believe it.
"There were people who didn't believe in the vaccination for a start, then there were people who didn't believe COVID was real.
"I just thought: 'Whatever', and put my headphones back in. I don't want to get involved in conversations like that.
"I didn't want to get into an argument. It's up to them what they want to believe.
"In the end, I just thought: 'Here's the proof - if you don't want to believe it, what can I do?'"
• COVID diagnosis was 'worst nightmare'
Before testing positive for COVID on Boxing Day last year, Mr Watts had spent 14 weeks shielding at the start of the pandemic with his wife Hayley and two sons, Jack, aged six, and three-year-old Joshua.
He was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma - a cancer that affects white blood cells - in October 2019 and was still undergoing chemotherapy when he began shielding.
After going into remission in April 2020, Mr Watts returned to work as a black cab driver towards the end of last year, when he started losing weight and lost his appetite shortly before Christmas.
He said his wife encouraged him to have a COVID test and it confirmed his "worst nightmare" as the result came back positive.
"I knew my body wasn't able to cope with anything like that because it didn't have an immune system," Mr Watts said.
"I sat down on my stairs in disbelief thinking: 'What's going to happen?'"
After developing a high temperature, Mr Watts was admitted to hospital at the end of December, just weeks before he was expecting to receive his first COVID jab.
He said that doctors "started getting worried" after his oxygen levels dropped and a scan revealed he had a collapsed lung.
"I was scared out of my wits," Mr Watts added.
"I was staring at this monitor watching my oxygen percentage go down and down."
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Mr Watts, from Bexley, southeast London, said he was initially reluctant to be taken to intensive care because he feared he would not return.
However he quickly realised that if he did not follow doctors' advice, "the worst thing could happen".
"I remember going up there frightened out of my life," Mr Watts said.
"I was thinking: 'This is it. I'm not going to see the family again. I'm not going to see the kids again'. I was really, really upset."
• 'Defying the odds' as doctors considered switching off ventilator
Mr Watts said his last memory was watching a football match on his phone before he woke up from an induced coma more than five weeks later.
His wife Hayley told Sky News she and other family members were called to a meeting at the hospital in February to discuss turning off his ventilator because his condition had deteriorated so badly, but they insisted he should be "given more time".
"It was awful. He's defied all the odds," Mrs Watts said.
"He was obviously very, very poorly."
Having not seen her husband since he was admitted to hospital in December, Mrs Watts was allowed to video call him after he woke from his coma in mid-February, before visiting him in person at the end of March.
At the time, Mr Watts could not talk because he was using a tracheostomy pipe and a ventilator and he had to communicate with his wife using letters on a board.
After hearing doctors had considered turning off his ventilator, Mr Watts said he felt "very emotional" and "very lucky" to still be alive.
He was finally reunited with his two sons on 16 May, on his mother's birthday.
"I was just really happy to see them. I never thought I'd see them again," he added.
Mr Watts was able to stop using a ventilator in June, but just weeks later he suffered another collapsed lung and had to be hooked up to the device again.
He was moved out of intensive care in August and spent another two months on a hospital ward as he learnt how to talk, eat and walk again.
• 'I can't be that unlucky again, can I?'
Medical staff lined up to applaud Mr Watts - whose friends set up a GoFundMe page to support his family - when he left the hospital on 21 October.
"I didn't think that day would ever come," he said.
"They'd never seen anyone who had done eight months and come out of ICU.
"There were times I was lying in the ICU on a ventilator thinking: 'How am I actually going to get out of this?'"
He added: "I've done the Knowledge of London test being a black cab driver - I thought that would be the toughest thing I ever did.
"Then I did my cancer battle and I thought that would be the toughest thing I did.
"Nothing compared to what this year has been like. It was so hard.
"I can't be that unlucky again, can I? I bloody well hope not."
Mr Watts - who has now had the COVID vaccine - said he still has oxygen therapy at night and has physiotherapy twice a week, along with daily exercises.
"It's been a battle," he said.
"The last two years have made me appreciate life a lot more. You never know what's round the corner.
"Don't take things for granted. Every day is special."
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