Tony Mungai thought his life was going to end when, in April 2020, he contracted Covid-19. Here, Tony and his partner Martha Koskina describe their hospital experience and tell us why they felt moved to raise money for Wythenshawe Hospital Charity…
Tony: It started with a temperature, but I didn’t have any of the other symptoms people talked about with Covid. So I was just treating it with paracetamol and made sure I was taking in lots of liquids. When it still hadn’t gone down and my oxygen levels were low, I had a chest X-ray but that still didn’t show anything. When I got home I still felt unwell and my temperature had got to 40 degrees. I was so fatigued but I couldn’t sleep. Then I started coughing up blood.
I knew I was getting rapidly worse. When I spoke to 111 they sent for an ambulance straight away and I was taken to my local hospital. At this point I was really struggling to breathe.
The last thing I remember was being told I would have to be intubated. At that time they were saying 90% of patients who had to be intubated for Covid would die. Every breath I took felt like someone was stabbing me in the stomach, I was in so much pain. I remember calling Martha and trying to reassure her everything was fine. But inside I was so scared. I thought it was going to be our last phone call. I was going to die.
Martha: He was trying to play it cool so I just thought he would be home by the weekend. I now know he really was close to leaving us forever.
It soon became obvious things were a lot worse than Tony had told me. When I spoke to the hospital before they put him on the ventilator, they said they’d call back in an hour to let me know what was happening. Six or seven hours went by and no one called and I just thought ‘He has to be dead, that’s why they haven’t called’. Eventually they called and said ‘I’m sorry we didn’t call – we were losing him and we had lots of staff around him trying to keep him alive. He’s in a really, really bad state’.
Tony was intubated and then within about 24hours he was on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – a machine for critically ill patients when a ventilator is not enough to keep them alive. The machine takes over a patient’s heart and lung functions to allow these organs to recover). I feel very lucky that we had an ECMO unit on our doorstep at Wythenshawe.
After that we had to wait a few days because his lungs were completely wiped out – they needed time to recover. Thankfully none of his other organs were damaged or affected so we just had to take it day by day. It became so hard every day that he was on there. I’d call all the time but there was no update.
The team at Wythenshawe were in constant communication with colleagues in London. At that time they’d had a few more weeks of experience with Covid so knew a little bit more about it. They said they hadn’t seen improvements after patients had been this bad for 13 days and at this point Tony had been on ECMO for 13 days too.
There started to be discussions about whether he’d ever recover. And if he did recover, what his quality of life would be like. They were trying to break it to me that we were going to lose him.
At this point I was abroad to be with my family and had tested positive for Covid myself, so I had to isolate and recover before I could fly back to England. I just wanted them to keep him alive until I got back.
After Tony had been on ECMO a month I got a lovely call from a doctor I will never forget. She spent ages speaking to me and asking what sort of person Tony was and what sort of things he was into. She wanted to know him as a person. She spent 90 minutes on the phone to me asking questions and telling me all about Tony’s condition – everything was failing him and he was not going to recover. They had done everything they could from a medical point of view, now it was up to Tony. I told her ‘I am the most pessimistic person, but I just know that now he is on the ECMO he is going to be okay’. I then asked her if they could put the phone next to him so I can speak to him, and she said she will try and arrange that.
The next day they called me and explained they could put the phone next to Tony so he could hear my voice. I spoke to him for over an hour. I thought it might be the last thing he heard so I wanted it to be my voice so he knew I was there for him. The next day I got a phone call: ‘We don’t know what you’ve done but we’re going to trial him off the ECMO. He’s getting better’.
Tony went onto the ventilator 14th April 2020. He went on ECMO 15th April and came off it 17th May. No one can explain how – other patients who had been on ECMO that long from Covid didn’t have good outcomes.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Tony. He had so many complications and subsequent infections and viruses, but finally he was moved from the Cardiothoracic ICU to the Acute ICU at the beginning of June.
Tony: When I properly woke up in July I didn’t know where I was. I don’t remember anything from that time in April until July and I didn’t know I’d been moved from my local hospital to Wythenshawe Hospital. I couldn’t do anything for myself and I couldn’t talk. There were tubes and machines all over me and I had no idea what was going on.
My 31st birthday was 28th June and my sister was allowed a visit but I don’t remember any of it. I couldn’t move for a long time and I lost about 5.5 stone. I had to learn to walk and feed myself again and needed help going to the toilet – I had to re-learn everything.
Lots of people were so kind but I particularly remember the physiotherapist Barbara. She was so caring and supportive. All the staff were amazing. That’s why we chose to fundraise for Wythenshawe Hospital Charity. I know I’m so lucky so we wanted to give something back to the ECMO department. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.
We are also so thankful and grateful to Neil Fearon and Rick Dunn who completed a week-long walk from Wythenshawe Hospital to Snowdon to raise funds for our cause.
Eventually I was allowed home but it was still a long time to recover. Even now (summer 2021) I’d say I’m 80% better. I’m definitely not 100% yet. I have issues with my liver and I still get very fatigued.
Martha: The people in the hospital…they kept me alive as much as they kept Tony alive. They were so supportive and I can’t thank them enough. I can’t emphasise enough how grateful we are to all of them.
They’ve given us a second chance at life now. We got married a few months ago (July 2021) and soon we will be having a baby boy (October 2021). It feels very surreal and more like a fairytale but we’re so happy now.