A Leeds man has spoken of the “dark moments” he has faced over the past 12 months, as he reached the grim milestone of one year in hospital battling the ravaging effects of Covid-19.
Jason Kelk, delivering an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post from his bed in the ICU of St James Hospital, paid tribute to his family and the “wonderful” nurses who have kept him fighting, while conceding that he may “never fully recover”.
He was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms on 31 March 202 - just one day after Derek Draper, the husband of TV presenter Kate Garraway, who is understood to be the UK’s longest Covid-19 inpatient.
As a type II diabetic with mild asthma, Jason was at high risk from Covid-19, and virus left him fighting for his life on numerous occasions.
It destroyed his lungs and kidneys, and left him with such severe stomach issues he is still having to be fed intravenously.
‘I’ve lost hope’
Incredibly, over the past few weeks, his recovery appears to have turned a corner.
Today marks 15 days in a row that he has managed off the ventilator completely and he is now having dialysis three times a week instead of being hooked up to a 24/7 kidney filter.
The remarkable progress has provided a much-needed beacon of hope - with talk now turning to when, not if, he will return home to his wife Sue and family in Seacroft.
Typing out his replies, Jason told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “My family is what kept me fighting. It would have been a very different year without them there.”
Looking back over his 12-month journey so far, Jason, who has lost over six stone, said: “A lot of the time has been spent worrying about the future and when, or perhaps more if, I could go home.”
He added: “I think the lowest point for me was in the earlier days when I didn’t know much of what was going on or indeed what had happened. It felt absolutely terrible - leaving me both scared and angry.
“I’ve lost hope on a few occasions, mainly because even now the destination I’m working towards seems so far away.”
He said: “It fortunately hasn't all been dark moments though and the nurses have been wonderful,” adding: “What’s kept me going is the thought of getting home to my wife Sue.”
‘I think he’s amazing’
Sue, 63, a former nurse, has been supporting Jason from afar over the past year but thanks to hospital staff and Jason’s continuing improvement, the couple - who have been together for 21 years - have been able to enjoy brief weekly reunions outside since February.
She said: “I just think he’s amazing. He’s full of self-doubt - even now. He doubts he can do things and I say to him: ‘Jason, look at what you have achieved’.
“He has been through so much and it’s been a real struggle for him for a lot of that time. He’s proved everybody wrong. They said he might never get off the ventilator - and he’s off the ventilator."
Jason still breathes through the tracheostomy tube in his throat due to frequent vomiting - thought to be linked to his stomach issues, which Sue said is next to be tackled when he is strong enough.
She said: “It’s miraculous. The fact that he is still here and so much better. Basically he’s going to be coming home for definite, we just don’t know when.
“His sense of humour is amazing, he’s still got that. We talk about racing our mobility scooters.”
‘Don’t get caught in the same boat’
Jason said at the moment he’s feeling positive about the future and the chance of seeing more of his family - which includes Sue’s five children and seven grandchildren, who call him Grandad.
“Right now I feel pretty good, there’s still a lot of work needed to get me home but, when visiting restarts after lockdown, Sue and my family can come in to visit," he said.
Once he gets home, he says he’s simply looking forward to some normality: “I’m looking to go home, sit on our sofa and eat take away fish and chips with Sue while we watch telly. Something normal like that.”
And with nationwide restrictions beginning to lift, as the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown gets underway, Jason had a word of warning for people to still take the virus seriously.
“Most people won’t end up bed-ridden for a year with regular dialysis and breathing through a pipe but it can happen. I’m never going to fully recover from this, don’t let yourself get caught up in the same boat,” he said.
A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, the Yorkshire Evening Post