A retired lawyer who survived Covid-19 after contracting the virus in the early weeks of the pandemic made an emotional return home today after spending 306 days in hospital.
Geoffrey Woolf, 74, who was rushed to hospital last March after collapsing over breakfast, is believed to have spent one of the longest periods in hospital of any Covid patient before being discharged.
Such was the seriousness of his condition that his three sons were called in to say goodbye at one point during the summer, before their father then, in their words, “suddenly woke up” in July.
Since his discharge from an intensive care unit at Whittington hospital he has been undergoing treatment at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability in Putney in London for the brain damage caused by the virus, which also caused paralysis down one side of his body, and aphasia.
“The staff and carers at the hospital have been amazing. And also the staff at the Whittington,” said Woolf, who added that he was happy to be coming home to Holloway in north London on a day that meant “freedom”.
Asked what was most looking forward to, he replied: “Steak and chips.”
Watch: What is long COVID?
Woolf had been studying for a degree in art history at London’s City Lit adult education college having retired shortly before contracting the virus. As an active gym goer with no underlying health conditions, his sudden collapse had come out of the blue, while doctors who first saw him after his sons dialled 999 on 23 March had suspected meningitis.
His initial hospital treatment for the virus had taken place over the course of 127 days, 67 of them on a ventilator. Footage showed him being applauded out on his discharge before he was transferred for neurological rehabilitation on his speech and language, as well for physical therapy.
“It’s been a heck of a fight,” said his son, Nicky, who described how his father demonstrated that he had lost none of his sense of humour as he arrived home. “His first joke was that he chose quite a difficult way of skipping the last year of the Trump administration, but that it was still probably worth it.”
He and another of Woolf’s sons, Sam, had turned to their father’s love of literature as a way of helping him and others struggling with the long periods of isolation associated with Covid-19 recoveries.
“He always said if he was in hospital for a long time, he would be able to deal with it if he had a book,” said Sam.
They loaded an e-reader with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – what the brothers called their father’s “comfort read” – and played it as he initially lay unconscious.
Setting out then to acquire more devices for other patients, the idea has given rise to the Books for Dad project, which aims to provide recovering Covid-19 patients with Kindle devices loaded with audio content to provide some stimulation and relief.
“We feel overwhelmed with relief and gratitude for everyone that’s looked after Dad – we can’t wait to get back into a home life routine now, and he can’t wait to settle down with a good book.”
Among other long-term survivors of Covid-19 who are still battling complications from the virus, the broadcaster Kate Garraway said today that her husband Derek Draper was “still ravaged by effects of coronavirus”.
“It’s been a strange time,” she said on GMB as she provided an update on his condition as a milestone of a year approached since he was taken into hospital. “I’ve been a bit low since Christmas, physically low. I felt physically at the end of my tether and had to regroup a bit,” added Garraway, who said that a friend’s 51-year-old mother-in-law had died from Covid-19 after contracting it at Christmas.
“I’m trying to look for new things and new ways and talking to doctors about what we can do for him. Meanwhile, people are still dying in extraordinary numbers – people that aren’t older and haven’t got underlying conditions. It’s unbearable.”
Three more remarkable stories of recovery
Despite the UK’s rising daily death toll from the new wave of Covid-19, incredible stories of survival against the odds continue to emerge.
After testing positive for Covid-19 on New Year’s Eve, the centenarian was able to recover in time to celebrate her 106th birthday at the Elizabeth Court care home in St Helens, Merseyside.
“It’s a big birthday – 106. I’ve been fantastic, and I’m happy and enjoying myself. Earlier on I had a cough but I’m feeling better,” said the pensioner, who is known as Polly.
“It’s nice to be able to celebrate after being in isolation because of the virus. But I’m feeling good after Covid and nothing can hold me back. I’ll get back to normal as quickly as I can.”
A former catering worker who lived alone in her home in St Helens until she was 102, she was described as “fiercely independent” by her niece, Jean Humphreys.
After spending 243 days in hospital with Covid-19, the British Airways pilot has returned home after he was taken into hospital in Texas in March.
“I went through a dark phase where psychologically there were issues I had to deal with,” said the father of two from Betchworth, Surrey, who was filmed punching the air and hugging medics as he was discharged from hospital.
“It was a tough journey but, we’ve got where we are,” added the 59-year-old, who fell ill after a flight to Houston. He spoke of getting through the ordeal with the help of his wife, Nicki, who was at the hospital for almost every day of her husband’s stay, and the thought of returning to his children.
“There was a dark phase. Psychologically there were issues that I had to come to terms with,” he told a US television station.
Doctors have said that every organ of his body was affected by the virus but they believe that his prior fitness as a pilot had helped him to survive. “There was always a question: ‘Is he even in there?’ Given the enormous number of the medications, the other multi-organ issues that were happening,” said Dr Bindu Akkanti, a clinician at Memorial Hermann hospital, where Synnott was treated.
“I think all of us on our team agreed that it was his wife [that helped him pull through].”
Another doctor, Biswajit Kar, added: “We were firstly overwhelmed by the joy that someone this sick could make it.”
Seery, 58, a HGV driver from Billingham, a town in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees, fell ill after being placed on furlough from his job.
In a video posted by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS foundation trust, he spoke with emotion about how he was admitted to hospital and woke up three-and-a-half weeks later. Another shows him being applauded out of an intensive care unit.
Seery’s oxygen saturation was measured to be as low as 40% shortly after his wife, Joyce, called an ambulance and he was admitted to University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton.
Soon after arrival he was placed in a medically induced coma. “The scary part was saying goodbye to my wife. I went away and I was on my own, basically,” said Seery. “It was devastating for my family; my wife just had to sit in the house and wait for the phone to ring with an update as to what was happening and not knowing whether she was going to get bad news. Twice she was told I wasn’t going to make it. She wanted to come and say goodbye to me.”
It was only on the day that the tubes were removed that he was able to talk, and he phoned his wife to speak to her for the first time in nearly a month.
The road to recovery was far from easy and he was only able to walk with a frame and a stick initially.
“I couldn’t walk far and I lost three and a half stones in weight and muscle mass. It was difficult because the weather was warm. I was tired constantly.”
He made a plea to the public to take the virus seriously, before tearing up as he spoke about “feeling good” after returning to work three weeks earlier.
Watch: Should I pay off debt or save money during the coronavirus pandemic?