A woman who lost her “fit and healthy” husband to coronavirus, has spoken out about what he went through in his final days.
Ali Swinburne lost her “fit and healthy” 57-year-old husband Mark to the virus, after 21 loving years together.
She said Mark was a former Marine who had completed tours to both the Falklands and Northern Ireland and was “loved by everyone he met”.
Ali from Marsden, South Shields said: “I want to speak about Mark to keep his memory alive. So many people don’t know what Covid patients have to endure, but I want the public to know, because there’s still plenty of people fighting for their lives, and their families will never be the same.
“Mark was so full of life and light and now he’s gone. I wouldn’t wish what we went through on even my worst enemy.”
She told the Chronicle Live the “horrendous” events that led to the death of her husband on April 14, just 19 days after he first tested positive for Covid-19.
The pair’s ordeal began when Mark was sent for a compulsory Covid test by his employer, Newcastle College.
The 54-year-old said: “He came back from work early one day, furious that he’d received a positive result.
“I tested positive too, and within a few days, Mark was complaining of breathlessness despite having no underlying health issues.
“I tried to get him out of bed one morning, and he said ‘I can’t, I feel terrible’.
“He dragged himself down stairs, but I could tell he wasn’t right. I dialled 999 and a paramedic was sent out within minutes.”
Mark’s blood oxygen level was at 51%, when it should have been above 95%. Arriving at hospital, he was put on continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) ventilation and he was later whisked away to intensive care.
Ali said: “I was at home on my own, feeling helpless. It was a horrendous time.
“But the staff at South Tyneside hospital were amazing, the sister on the ICU ward said I could ring anytime of the day or night if I wanted an update.
“When I spoke to Mark he would say he was very frightened and that he was desperate to come home.”
After 11 days in intensive care, Mark rang to say he had been released from the ward and that the physio working with him was pleased with his progress.
However things soon took a turn for the worst, as Mark was readmitted to ICU with a collapsed lung.
“He had to have a chest drain, which he said was unbelievably painful, and then his right lung collapsed.
“The consultant called to say they were thinking of ventilating him, and when I spoke to Mark about it, he started apologising.
“He said ‘I’m so sorry for putting you through this’, which shows what kind of a person he was. Although I tried my best to reassure him, it was incredibly difficult.”
Soon after he was sedated, Ali was called to ICU to spend some time with her partner.
“I told my mam they wanted me to get there as soon as possible, and she decided to come with me, she knew there was bad news coming.
“I spent some time with Mark, speaking to him and holding his hand. He wouldn’t have known I was there because he was heavily sedated.”
The consultant told the family they wanted to put a do not resuscitate order (DNR) on Mark because they suspected he would soon go into cardiac arrest, and his kidneys were already failing.
“The whole family decided we wanted him to have a fighting chance, and that we didn’t want the order” Ali said.
“The hospital made it clear it wasn’t them giving up on him, they even took him to theatre that day to try and clear his lungs.
“They’d also tried to get him moved to a hospital in Leicester where there was a specialised machine for Covid patients to re-oxygenate their blood, but he was too ill to travel.”
“But by April 13, the DNR was no longer our decision. Mark had sepsis and it was up to the medical professionals to make a call.”
The family were invited down on that night, and were permitted to see Mark in pairs.
He died the following morning, with Ali and her mum by his side.
Ali said she remembers the staff being “absolutely amazing” and going “above and beyond” in those tragic hours after his death.
“They took all the tubes off him and cleaned him up and then let us go back in and see him.
“They even took a cutting of his hair for us and laminated his hand prints – I could tell they were devastated too.”
Ali said tributes to her husband came pouring in.
“His fellow servicemen always said he had a brilliant sense of humour and could hold any room.
“Lads he had served with in the Marines came from all over the country for his funeral. They arranged for a flag bearer to be there, for the last post to be played and also for a guard of honour to stand to attention as he was taken to the crematorium.
“To me, this showed just how much he was loved.”
Ali said her year since his death has been filled with “so many emotions: complete devastation, anger, and then a chilling emptiness.
“For anyone who reads it, I beg you to get a vaccine, because we need to do our best to stop the spread.
“And please, if you’re not exempt, wear a mask.
“Wearing a face covering is nothing compared to being forced onto ventilation.”