Survivor Tommy (72) : 'I heard patients gurgling and choking as they battled for their lives'

Shaun Oneill


Shaun Oneill

TOMMY O’Neill beat the odds and survived Covid-19 - but now he is bluntly reminding the public to stay on guard against the killer disease.

The 72-year-old Ballymena man does not mince his words and points out he experienced a living nightmare before coming out the other side.

He suffered hallucinations, much too graphic to outline in a family newspaper, and nightmares.

Tommy also listened as other patients fought for breath, “choking and gurgling” as they battled for life.

“And their fight for survival was not always a success, and the following morning their bed was empty, they had passed away, and before long another patient was in their place, and the battle for life began all over again,” said Tommy.

“Believe me, it was very scary. I cannot emphasise enough that Covid-19 is a killer disease. People are dying that should not be dying. Covid-19 does not care what age you are, or about your health history.”

And having experienced first hand the trauma which comes with Covid, Tommy makes an appeal to the public.

“Do not treat Covid-19 lightly. Respect it and please follow all the instructions, rules and regulations which are in place to try to beat this deadly disease,” he said.

Tommy, who lost a lot of his hair through Covid, but is pleased that it has grown back, says he will wear his face covering at all times when outside.

“I will do everything I can to look after myself, and look after the welfare of others,” he said.

Meanwhile, it will soon be a year since Tommy was hit by Covid.

He ended up spending 24 days in the Intensive Care Unit (ITU) in Belfast.

Altogether he spent a total of 33 days in hospital between Antrim Area and the Nightingale Hospital in Belfast.

He admits he is fortunate to have beaten the virus - pointing out his life hung in the balance as he battled for survival.

Tommy has nothing but praise for his very supportive family.

“Without them I could not have done it. For them it must have been a nightmare too, wondering if I would survive. And they helped me along the path to recovery. When I got back home they had me walking around the apartment each day, trying to get me stronger and stronger. Then it was walking outside the apartment before eventually being able to make it into Harryville,” outlined Tommy.

“I cannot thank my family enough. They all more than played their part getting me back to where I am today.”

And he praised the National Health Service (NSH) for saving his life and doing such an excellent and relentless job in the fight against Covid-19.

Reflecting on her dad’s homecoming from hospital last year, daughter Nichola, said the whole family was “over the moon” to have him back in Ballymena.

For his wife Shirley, his childhood love, - they have known each other since she was just 13-years-of-age, - Covid had forced them apart for the first time in 52 years.

It was back on March 26, 2020, that Tommy was first admitted to hospital.

Four days later he was put into an induced coma and had a ventilator inserted.

On April 17 the ventilator was removed, and the next 48 hours were a success and Tommy was taken back to Antrim Area Hospital.

“And he was back home again on Monday, April 27,” a delighted Nichola told the Guardian at the time.

“It is absolutely brilliant that dad came through what was such a terrible time. It was such a brilliant feeling when he stepped back into his home again.”

At the time Nichola warned the public not be become Covid-19 complacent - after her dad Tommy won his battle against the killer virus.

She pointed out that the public must stay on full alert until told otherwise.

“This is not an age related disease,” Nichola told the Guardian.

“Do not become complacent about it. Remember to keep social distancing, and all the other rules set in place by the Government. And together we will all get through.”

Nichola, her son Calum, her daughter, Rebeka, a District Nurse in Cullybackey, and her mum spent a very anxious time as Tommy fought for his life.

When Tommy got back home Nichola, on behalf of her family, said a very special thank you to the staff at Antrim ICU and Ward 7, the Nightingale ICU and Ward 8 North, and Antrim A3.

“Thank you all so much, from the bottom of my heart, for saving my daddy’s life,” said Nichola.

And Nichola thanked friends and families who were in contact, offering their support and wishing her dad all the very best.

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