Bamber Bridge dad-of-two battles back from Covid after 52 days on ventilator in Preston's ICU
A Bamber Bridge dad-of-two has survived a gruelling two-month battle on Preston's ICU ward with Covid-19, just weeks after his family were told to "prepare for the worst".
Sean Lonergan spent Christmas in a coma at Royal Preston Hospital where he was kept alive by a ventilator for 52 days after he was rushed into A&E struggling to breathe on December 2.
But after an epic two month battle with the virus, which ravaged Sean's lungs and left him on the brink of death, the 56-year-old has stunned medics and pulled through.
He has still not seen his wife and two children since he was rushed into A&E three months ago. But Sean says he is now on the mend at a specialist rehabilitation unit, where he is undergoing physical therapy to get back on his feet before he can finally be discharged for a long-awaited reunion with his family.
This is Sean's story...
The 56-year-old, who is diabetic and has chronic kidney disease, had been staying at the hospital overnight to watch over his 11-year-old daughter Ellie, who had been rushed into hospital 11 days earlier suffering from sudden bouts of fits and sickness.
Ellie had been undergoing tests and treatment and has since been diagnosed with extrapontine myelinolysis (EPM), a rare neurological disorder.
Sean had been at home 'shielding' due to his vulnerability to Covid, whilst his wife Louise spent 11 sleepless nights at her daughter's bedside.
But seeing his wife return home exhausted, Sean told her to stay at home to get some rest, whilst he bravely took her place the next night.
At his daughter's bedside, Sean felt a sudden shortness of breath and approached a nurse with his concerns. The staff on ward 8 arranged for a porter to take Sean to A&E, where he was given oxygen and tested positive for Covid-19.
That night - in a tragic twist of fate - and for many nights to come, both Ellie and her father would be patients in separate wards of Royal Preston Hospital. But father and daughter would not see each other again for three months, as Sean's condition deteriorated and medics battled to keep him alive.
Just 24 hours after holding his daughter's hand at her bedside, Sean was suffering with the rapid onset of coronavirus. His kidneys had stopped working and he was unable to breathe. Sean was placed on a ventilator which would breathe for him for the next 52 days.
Louise remembers how an hour before the ventilator's tubes were inserted, Sean had bravely told her, "Please stay positive. Promise me you'll stay positive." It was the last time the couple would speak to each other until he was brought out of his induced coma six weeks later.
"I'll never forget it," said Louise, "but that's the kind of person Sean is. He always stays positive and I think that has helped him and our family get through this horrendous ordeal. It's been a source of strength for us all."
She said she clung to Sean's words as his condition began to deteriorate.
Two weeks later, Louise called the ward for her morning update and was told the doctor would like her come in to see Sean. He was heavily sedated and receiving daily dialysis to keep his kidneys working.
The doctor explained that the ventilator was struggling to work due to Sean's "rigid" lungs which had been ravaged by the virus. Louise was told that the "next 24 hours would be critical".
Louise said she "braced herself for the worst".
"It was horrendous," said Louise, "they basically told us to prepare ourselves for what might be the worst outcome.
"At that point, things looked so bad for him that they said we could go and visit, even though the ward is off-limits to visitors because of Covid. They said the next 24 hours would be critical."
Louise had not seen her husband since he was rushed into emergency care 16 days earlier, but she was so frantic and distraught with the thought of losing her husband that she couldn't enter the ward.
Instead, Sean's sister Julia went in to see him, where she spoke to her comatose brother, fearing it might be the last time she would see him alive.
After leaving his bedside, Julia said she was heartened to hear one of the nurses assure her, "Don't worry, I'll look after him like he's my own brother".
Louise said: "That really gave us the comfort and reassurance we needed. We knew everyone working on the ward was behind him and he was in the best of hands. They were incredible."
Against all the odds - after 52 days on a ventilator and 43 days in a coma - Sean's battered lungs grew stronger and he was able to begin breathing on his own again.
Incredibly, the 56-year-old had pulled through. He was discharged from ICU on January 25 and transferred to the HDU (high-dependency unit) and ward 5 to continue his recovery.
On February 17 - a total of 77 days after he was first admitted to ICU with Covid - Sean bid farewell to the wards of RPH to continue his recovery across hospital grounds at Avondale Rehabilitation Unit.
As an inpatient at the rehab centre, he must learn to walk again and build up his strength and conditioning before returning home to his family in the weeks to come.
Speaking from his bed in rehab, Sean said that the virus has taken its toll on his body and he can't yet walk unaided. But he says he is "lucky to be alive" and is looking forward to the future with his family.
"It's going to be some time yet before I'm back to full strength" he says, "but it's all good. It's baby steps at the moment. The worst of it is over and I'm just looking forward to being home with Louise and the kids again, so I say bring it on!"
"One of the lovely doctors came to visit me the other day," said Sean, "and she said, "you know you should be dead?
"I know the odds were against me and I'm lucky to be alive, but I had the best doctors and nurses in the world looking after me. I couldn't have been in better hands."
Looking back on the past three months, Sean said everything is "a bit of a blur". He has what is known as "ICU delirium", which is a condition that can effect critical care patients, causing confusion and memory loss.
"It feels very strange because I've been in a coma for so long and I've been out of it for most of this time. I missed Christmas and I've not seen the news or TV for months, so I'm not really sure of what's been happening.
"It can be a bit confusing. One of the last things I remember is being sat with Ellie and then struggling to catch my breath.
"Then I'm on the hospital ward and it starts to get foggy. It happened so fast. It's scary, but I think it was worse for my family, because at least I wasn't aware of a lot of it.
"Whereas Louise and the kids, my sisters Julia and Tracey, my auntie Trish and uncle Mel and family, they've had it worse in some ways because they haven't stopped worrying about me.
"But even though I was out of it for a long time, I think deep down, I knew they were there for me. My wife Louise is my rock, as are my sisters. And the kids Ellie and Cian.
"We're a very close family and I've not seen them for so long and that's what's spurring me on now. I can't wait to see them again.
"I'm looking forward to things getting back to normal now. Just simple things. I want to cook my own meals in my kitchen with my wife and watch Man United and see my border-collie Georgie again."
Louise said her husband is an "absolute inspiration" and says she is now looking forward to her family being reunited. Their daughter Ellie has also returned home after her own months-long battle with a rare neurological condition, which has left her with recurring seizures. The Lancashire Post will be sharing Ellie's own story in the days to come.
Louise said: "Sean's such a fighter and I'm so proud of him for staying strong and staying with us. It's going to be very emotional when he comes home.
"The past few months have been strange, terrifying and exhausting - having both my 11-year-old daughter and my husband in the same hospital at the same time - it was hard to believe at times.
"It's been horrific, but in a way, it was fortunate that Sean was at Ellie's bedside when he became ill. Because it came on that fast and he deteriorated so quickly.
"If he had been at home that night, he might have died. In a strange way, he was in the right place at the right time."
Louise said she hopes Sean's story will give others hope that their loved ones can also make it through their own battles with Covid-19.
She said: "Not everyone with Covid will be as lucky as Sean, but I think we always need to stay positive and never give up hope.
"The odds were stacked against Sean, but he made it through. I hope this will give others hope that they're family and friends can make it too."
The couple added that they have been left "in awe" of the staff at Royal Preston Hospital and Louise had to fight back tears as she spoke of their efforts to save her husband's life.
"We just can't thank them enough. They're incredible, absolutely incredible," she said.
"The way they fought for Sean and never gave up on him. It means so much to us as a family and we'll never forget it. They really are heroes."