A mother-of-two told her husband had ‘zero chance’ of surviving coronavirus has revealed how he will come home in days after spending 61 days on a ventilator.
Sue Martin, 49, from Cardiff, broke Radio 4 listeners’ hearts in April as she revealed she was given 10 minutes to say a heartbreaking final goodbye to Mal, 58.
She told how their two children Hana, 16, and William, 13, vowed to make him proud as they said what they believed to be their final words to their father.
Fighter Mal spent 61 days on a ventilator as he battled the virus, but doctors managed to wean him from the machine and he has made a miraculous recovery.
Sue revealed on Radio 4’s Today programme that he is now due to come home in mere days, saying: ‘He’s doing really well, getting stronger every day, can now walk short distances unaided, can now walk upstairs.
‘He’s just really…they’re just completely astounded with his determination and focus.’
She added: ‘To think, we discussed funeral and whether we would go ahead with that and to think we were at that stage, and it was almost so hopeless and to now talk about him coming home, we just can’t believe it. We’re just so incredibly grateful.’
Sue Martin, 49, from South Wales, previously told listeners of Radio 4’s Today programme about her husband Mal’s, 58, dramatic deterioration after suffering from coronavirus, and how she rushed her children to hospital to say goodbye to them
She went on to reveal as Mal was weaned off the ventilator, the family took their time before speaking to him, saying: ‘We weren’t able to be there, there were restrictions on visiting for obvious reasons.
‘We were able to FaceTime but in the early days, it was actually too distressing to see him just sort of, lying there lifeless and obviously unresponsive.
‘We actually waited until a little bit later on, until he was fully awake, which was a long long time.
‘But it was actually a one-way conversation because he actually wasn’t fully able to speak at that time but he was so weak, all he could do was blink or raise an eyebrow or nod.
‘He couldn’t even move his arms or head at the beginning, he had so much muscle wastage from being on a ventilator for so long.
‘Then, after a little while, he had a voice setting to the tracheotomy. The day we were able to hear his voice was just incredible but it took a long long time to get to that stage.
‘Every time we see him now, it is more like him. He is just a thinner, weaker version of himself.
She added: ‘He’s just now realising how close he came and what we have gone through as well which is quite difficult for him to process.
Sue said her family has been ‘overwhelmed’ by all the support they’ve received from around the world since sharing their story
‘He’s having difficult doing things because of his fingers, because several are all shriveled up because of the medication they gave him to keep him alive, but that’s a small price to pay.
‘He requires some amputations of fingers and thumbs. But yes, he has to regain his strength and build muscle mass, that will take time.
‘He may always suffer from breathlessness, and he may require long-term dialysis. Equally he may not, and if anyone can get over these things then I think Mal can.’
Meanwhile Sue revealed her children had coped ‘incredibly’ with the traumatic months of Mal’s illness.
She said: ‘If anything it’s brought us closer and probably them closer. With a now 14-year-old and 17-year-old, it’s probably brought them closer together.
In April, Sue and Mal’s daughter Hana gave a brave interview recalling the awful hospital visit, saying: ‘The state that he was in, it was just horrible to see my dad like this. He was swollen, his hands swollen, you could see his arteries, his veins’
‘We’ve goner through such difficult times in such extraordinary circumstances so to have to go through something like this and for them not to be able to see their dad or their friends or have hugs from grandparents has made it so much more difficult than it would have been normally.
‘They’ve coped really well, and I think they’re getting to the stage like most teenagers where they’re desperate for things to get back to some normality.’
What is a tracheotomy?
According to the NHS, a tracheostomy is a surgical opening in the wall of the trachea (windpipe) to facilitate ventilation. The term for the surgical procedure to create this opening is tracheotomy.
The opening is usually maintained by use of a tracheostomy tube.
A tracheostomy may be created for a number of reasons – including to deliver oxygen to the lungs when a person is unable to breathe normally after an injury or accident.
Or it can be created because their muscles are very weak.
It can also allow a person to breathe if their throat is blocked – this can be caused by a swelling, a tumour, or something stuck in their throat and to reduce the risk of food or fluid going into the lungs.
Sue added that the family still face a ‘long and difficult journey’ to help Mal recover strength and return to a more normal way of life.
She explained: ‘Because this is such a new virus, it’s not known what the long term effects will be. What has been really helpful is being able to talk to other people in the same situation.
‘I know from that that it has effected different patients differently.’
She went on to explain how Mal’s emotional and mental health may continue to be impacted for years to come, saying: ‘We’ve been told his hallucinations may last for a few years.
‘We’ll continue to take each day as it comes, him being here phsyically with us will make a massive difference.
‘We’ll do whatever we need to do. Hopefully there will be positives to come from this.’
Mal, a diabetic, became unwell with symptoms of coronavirus on 19 March, but she believed that he would pull through because he was ‘very, very healthy’ and fit.
But after 10 days, he became progressively worse, and Sue called for an ambulance on 29 March, with Mal walking out the door alongside paramedics.
Hours later, she received a devastating phone call telling her that Mal was so unwell he would need to be put on a ventilator and he had a 50 per cent chance of survival.
As his health continued to deteriorate, Sue, Hana and William were rushed to the hospital and given 10 minutes with Mal to say their goodbyes.
The family were gowned up in layers of protective clothing, and screens were put around his bed, with Sue and her two children saying their final words to Mal.
Mal, chairman for a recruitment firm, and Sue, communications manager at department for transport, got married in September 1996, and have now been together for 28 years.
He founded recruitment firm Time 4 Recruitment in 2001, with the strapline ‘the agency that cares’.
Mal, chairman for a recruitment firm, and Sue, communications manager at department for transport, got married in September 1996, and have now been together for 28 years
Mal is a type 2 diabetic and suffered a heart attack four years ago, but despite that Sue said he lived a ‘very, very healthy’ life.
In April, Sue and Mal’s daughter Hana gave a brave interview recalling the awful hospital visit, saying: ‘The state that he was in, it was just horrible to see my dad like this. He was swollen, his hands swollen, you could see his arteries, his veins.’
Hanna shared a warning with the public about the importance of following the government’s guidelines.
She said: ‘The virus doesn’t care who you are, how old you are, how healthy you are.’
Speaking about her father’s tracheotomy, she told Radio 1’s Newsbeat: ‘At this point I will take anything to just hear his voice or see him again.’
The 16-year-old also recalled her final conversation with her father as they spoke over FaceTime hours before he was placed on a ventilator.
She said: ‘He said he’d make it through as it wasn’t his time. It was at that point calling him and then realising this could be the last time we ever speak to him.’
At the time, Mal was clinging to life, the family were focused on recovery and discussing how to help him survive without ventilation.
Hana revealed: ‘It is the first time I’ve believed he can make it through. I don’t think we could have asked for any better news considering the situation. Maybe we can even FaceTime.’
Her mother Sue tweeted to reveal her husband was taking ‘baby steps’ forward, saying: ‘I know it’s going to be very slow and tough progress but it’s progress. Baby steps forward is all we can hope for. Day 21 ventilator for Mal, too weak to wean so tracheotomy early this week.’
Sue added that the family has been ‘overwhelmed’ by all the support they’ve received from around the world since sharing their story.
‘Thousands of lovely, caring and hopeful messages from people all rooting for Mal. I’m just sorry I can’t reply to every one of them,’ she told BBC Radio 4 in April.
She later updated the public, writing on Twitter in April that Mal’s treatment was progressing.
She wrote on Twitter: ‘Mal has had his tracheotomy today. Otherwise no real improvement and still incredibly weak but hopefully will now be more comfortable and will be on less sedation,’ followed by the hashtag #keepgoingmal.
She wished love to ‘everyone going through the same thing’, adding: ‘Continued thanks to everyone in ICU caring for him.’
In a further tweet, Sue added that Mal isn’t off the ventilator because he isn’t strong enough to be weaned yet, but medics hope the tracheotomy will give him more time.
Writing on Twitter yesterday, she explained: ‘Mal has had his tracheotomy today. Otherwise no real improvement and still incredibly weak but hopefully will now be more comfortable and will be on less sedation,’ followed by the hashtag #keepgoingmal’
What is a ventilator and how is a patient weaned off it?
A machine that helps people breathe. It puts oxygen directly into patients’ lungs and removes carbon dioxide from them.
Ventilators are used to help a person breathe if they have lung disease or another condition that makes breathing difficult.
They can also be used during and post-surgery.
A breathing tube connects the ventilator machine to your body. One end of the tube is placed into the lung’s airways through your mouth or nose.
In some serious cases, the tube is connected directly to the windpipe through a small cut in the throat.
Surgery is needed to make the hole in the neck. This is called a tracheostomy.
CAN VENTILATORS HELP SAVE LIVES OF THOSE WITH CORONAVIRUS?
Two-thirds of coronavirus patients in the UK who need to be hooked up to a ventilator will die from the illness, official NHS data suggests.
A report from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Center (ICNARC) found ventilated patients succumb to the virus 66.3 per cent of the time.
That is double the mortality rate of non-virus patients who were put on breathing support between 2017 and 2019, before the outbreak.
The NHS is still 22,000 ventilators short of the estimated 30,000 it will need during the peak of this crisis, which has infected almost 34,000 Britons.
The high death rate has led some doctors to question whether some critically ill COVID-19 patients are being put on ventilation ‘for the sake of it’, when the machine could be spared for a healthy person with a higher chance of survival.
It comes after MailOnline revealed volunteers working at the NHS Nightingale super-hospital in London were given the stark warning that 80 per cent of patients on ventilators could die.
‘The truth is that quite a lot of these individuals [in critical care] are going to die anyway and there is a fear that we are just ventilating them for the sake of it, for the sake of doing something for them, even though it won’t be effective. That’s a worry,’ one doctor told The Guardian.
The ICNARC report found that for critically ill patients aged between 50 and 69, the mortality rate is just over 40 per cent.
People with pre-existing health conditions are thought to be at greater risk of developing severe symptoms because of their weakened immune systems.
But the ICNARC report found people with severe underlying health woes were just 10 per cent more likely to die if they fell seriously ill with COVID-19 than otherwise healthy people.
The document also found that most coronavirus patients in intensive care were male, 71 per cent of all cases.
HOW DOES WEANING WORK?
Weaning is the process of reducing the ventilator support which may be done quickly or over days to weeks.
It is more complex and hard for the patient if they have been on the ventilator for a long time. Relatives can be a great source of comfort during this time, and can be at the bedside to encourage the patient.
This can be very tiring and the ICU team will draw up a programme of exercises and ensure they get the right nutrition (food) to help.
When the medical staff are happy the process of discharge from the ICU will begin.