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QPR fan wins frightening ICU battle with Covid-19

QPR fan James Dickson has become Barnsley Hospital’s first Covid-19 patient who required intensive-care treatment to safely return home.

After hovering in a frightening 50:50 state between life and death, the R’s supporter will now continue his long recovery back to full health with his family.

Having initially tried to fight the virus at home, James became so ill by March 17th that his wife phoned for an ambulance. He was put on a ward in Barnsley Hospital but later transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as he struggled to breathe.

Staff tried to help his breathing with a device called a CPAP non-invasive hood but on March 19th doctors took the decision to sedate him and put him on mechanical ventilation.

Fearing the worst, staff phoned James’ wife who was self-isolating with their two boys and managed to get James to FaceTime her.

James said this week: “I was very scared to go on the ventilator. You have no time to prepare for it, so I did have a bit of a meltdown but I knew the staff were determined to try their hardest to get me through.”

Over the next 26 days, James hovered between life and death. He needed a tracheostomy to help him finally be fully woken up and weaned from the ventilator. Every day, the ICU team of doctors, nurses, physios, dieticians and pharmacists worked tirelessly to help his lungs and body recover.

James said: “I came off the ventilator on April 2nd but the next time I was conscious was on April 5th. I usually have a shaved head but when I woke up my hair was long – for me anyway – and I had a thick ginger beard and long nails.”

During the time James was ventilated, the ICU went from seven beds to 50 beds in its new location on ward 31/32.

Dr Steve Lobaz, Consultant in Anaesthetics and Intensive Care Medicine, said James would certainly have died if he had not gone into hospital when he did.

“James is the same age as me, had two kids like me, making this even more personal to see him in this situation. Knowing that there was a high chance of him dying (at least 50:50) even with intensive care due to the severity of the disease, it raised emotions high.”

James, a self-employed media freelancer, was finally discharged from hospital with a round of applause and a ‘guard of honour’ send-off on Friday 17th April.

Now at home, he said: “I was relieved to get through it but it was an odd feeling – I’m certain it’s not hit me yet. As soon as I got home I gave my boys a hug and got a glass of water. I’m still wobbly on my feet and my legs feel like jelly. I’ve lost a lot of muscle and over a stone in weight.

“I’m doing exercises every day and every day my walking and balance gets a bit better. My appetite is good and the tracheostomy is ok – I had to start swallowing gradually just taking teaspoons of water. My first real food was ice-cream, then yoghurt and mashed potato with gravy!

“Because of the personal protective equipment, I didn’t know the face of a single person who looked after me but I got to know them through their name badges, height and shape. Now Dr Lobaz has even sent me a photo of his face! The staff are all amazing from the doctors and nurses to the physios and cleaners. Their banter and positivity lifted me.”

He added: “This is a new illness that doctors and nurses are trying to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Staff are coming in every day and basically stepping into darkness. My story shows that recovery from Covid-19 is possible.”