Jimmy (front left) celebrating his 60th birthday with his family. Pictured are Kevin, Sharon, Lorraine and the late Garreth Kelly, along with Jimmy’s wife Noeleen and his mother-in-law Maisie
We see the facts and the figures associated with Covid-19 every day. But the real-life stories and the effects that this pandemic has had on families who have lost loved ones are not so widely known.
“Families that are being affected by Covid are going through hell,” explained Lorraine Kelly, whose family has suffered more than most since the very beginning of the pandemic. The Kellys lost their brother Garreth in February 2020 when he was murdered in a devastating, unprovoked attack. Two weeks later, the country was in lockdown, so they didn’t even have their extended family around them to help them grieve.
The most recent blow they’ve suffered is the death of their father, Jimmy, who contracted Covid-19 in April, spent 101 days on a ventilator in ICU and remained in hospital until last week. Tragically, his return home to Edgeworthstown was as a result of his death on Monday, November 15 and not the recovery his family had been hoping for.
A truly ambitious man, Jimmy was 58 years old when he decided to go back to education. He studied Software Design in Longford College of Further Education, before going on to study in AIT, graduating last year with his Bachelor of Science Degree. In recent weeks, AIT congratulated its latest batch of graduates and Jimmy, a full time Software Development student in his sixties, should have been among them, celebrating yet another achievement in a life that was still filled with dreams, goals and ambitions.
But disaster struck in April of this year when, taking a break from study, Jimmy and his siblings decided to meet up to say goodbye to their sister, who has dementia and was preparing to move into a nursing home for end of life care.
“With the uncertainty of visiting restrictions, the family decided to get together before she was transferred. So I think the majority of the siblings met up that day and they had a cup of tea. That was on the Saturday,” Lorraine recalled.
Jimmy got his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine the Monday but, on his return home to Edgeworthstown, he started to feel very tired.
“He straight away isolated from my mum and the next day, he got a phone call to say that he was a close contact of my uncle who had tested positive for Covid, so my dad arranged to have a test done on the Wednesday and that came back positive on the Thursday.”
In what was a whirlwind few days, Jimmy became very unwell very quickly, getting weaker and weaker until the following Monday when he no longer had the strength to even take a paracetamol out of the packet. It was then that he was taken to Mullingar Hospital.
By Tuesday, Jimmy was in ICU and, by seven o’clock on the Wednesday morning, he had been placed on a ventilator in an induced coma, where he remained for more than a month, fully sedated.
Lorraine and her siblings let their mother, Noeleen, isolate for a long and difficult week but, when she started to feel ill too, and subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, they were “heartbroken” to have both parents suffering with the virus.
Noeleen deteriorated a lot quicker than her husband and it wasn’t long before she too ended up in ICU, where she remained for seven weeks, separated from Jimmy, to spare her the sight of her husband in an induced coma on tubular ventilation.
When Noeleen started to recover and Jimmy was no longer infectious, they allowed her to see him, wheeling her down every day so that she could hold his hand. It wasn’t long before he too started to come round and was given a tracheotomy so that he could be put on a less invasive ventilator. He remained that way for four months.
“After the hundred days - I think he was only off the ventilator for two days - my dad took a cardiac arrest, just suddenly, in ICU,” said Lorraine. “They resuscitated him. There were no after effects. It took his body maybe three days to settle down and he seemed to be doing really well and then two weeks later he was out of ICU.
“I’ll never forget the day they brought him down to the fresh air. The four ICU nurses and all his tubes and connections and machines and we as a family all gathered outside and we brought down the two dogs and one in particular is almost 18 - a pomeranian - and my dad was able to have his pomeranian sitting on his lap. And that was a magical moment to have my dad with the fresh air on his face after being in hospital since April, to be able to see his dog. It was just amazing.”
Jimmy was doing well for a while and was transferred to a medical ward but, on his 63rd birthday, he deteriorated, developing aspiration pneumonia and ending up back in ICU for a week before recovering and returning to the medical ward in September.
“He was very upset a lot of the time, saying ‘I want to go home’ even when he couldn’t talk, I could lip read. And that was so hard. The staff gained his trust after everything he’d been through - he had post-traumatic stress,” said Lorraine.
“He remembered the nurse on all fours trying to resuscitate him. So then over the few weeks, physio worked so hard with him. They got him to move his fingers, move his hands, move his wrists, move his arms, shrug his shoulders. They were working from the outside in.”
It was October 22 when Jimmy was reunited with his laptop and he was determined to reach out and use it, managing to keep in touch with his wife and family via video calls. It seemed things were going well until two weeks ago when he took a turn.
Jimmy had developed sepsis and was transferred to the ICU again but, by Wednesday two weeks ago, he was back up in his ward because of a high number of Covid cases in the ICU. In a heartbreaking turn for his family, Jimmy continued to deteriorate and, in the early hours of Monday morning, November 15, his family decided to take off his oxygen mask. He passed away in the loving company of his wife and two daughters six hours later.
“Myself, my mum and my sister were there. But unfortunately, my brother, Kevin, had a head cold on Sunday night and before he came down to see us on Monday, he took an antigen test because he was feeling a little bit worse and it turns out my brother now has Covid. So my brother can’t even be with us and he won’t be able to go to my dad’s funeral,” said an emotional Lorraine.
Since the very beginning of this pandemic, the Kelly family has known nothing but grief and heartbreak.
“We did everything right. They did their shopping late at night when there was less risk. My dad took all his classes online. We kept my mam and dad safe. But Covid doesn’t distinguish between one person or another. It doesn’t care whether it’s just a christening or just a birthday party,” said Lorraine.
“My mum is distraught. She’s absolutely heartbroken. They never really spent a day apart in all the years. And they celebrated their wedding anniversary on the 28th of October at the hospital because my dad was in a room on his own.
“The staff had her in that day and they had a lovely celebration. The nurses decorated his room with anniversary balloons and banners and they got to spend the whole afternoon together and it was magical. It was so special. And one of the nurses even arranged for a box of chocolates and a card from my dad for my mum.”
More touching still was the fact that, while Jimmy was in ICU and his wife couldn’t visit, she started to write him a daily letter, starting, “Dear Jimmy...”
“So every day, my mum wrote a Dear Jimmy letter and the nurses would bring it down and read it to my dad,” said Lorraine.
“And it continued after she came home. She would post the letters and they would go to ICU and they would read them to my dad. It was so lovely. She has all the letters kept. Even when he went into ICU, she had a letter there. Even at his funeral, she’ll have a Dear Jimmy letter.”
The hospital staff, she added, went “above and beyond” for Jimmy throughout his time in hospital and that is something that the Kelly family will never forget.
“They were amazing. They looked at the safety but they looked at my dad as human. They didn’t see him as just a patient. We will never forget what they did for my mam and dad on their 43rd anniversary. We owe them a lot,” said Lorraine.
“I remember when Dad came out of ICU and they brought him into fresh air, all the nurses stood in the corridor and clapped and gave him an ovation because he survived Covid. I remember I said to him, ‘when you walk out of this hospital, I’ll have a news crew at that door and we’ll celebrate the survivor and we’ll give people hope’. Dad just wanted to give everyone hope.
“There was a gentleman that was in and he told my dad he was in ICU for just short of the same time as my dad. And he was walking out and going home and he told my dad ‘this’ll be you’. And that’s what it was all about - giving hope. Except we can’t give hope. We can only say stay safe and get the vaccine. Because we do think it could’ve been different if my dad had had his vaccine.”
Jimmy Kelly was an amazing man who was a friend to all at the hospital, despite his circumstances. He had the respect of everyone at AIT while he was a student there and next year, the college will award him posthumously with his Honours Degree.
“We’re so proud of my dad. He was the one that picked us up when we fell. It’s heartbreaking to think that Covid took him. It’s just unbelievable… unbelievable. I remember my dad in hospital would always want to stay safe. And he would always say stay safe and be careful,” said Lorraine.
“He was an amazing man.”
A Funeral Service to celebrate Jimmy's life took place in The Temple at Newlands Cross Crematorium last Friday afternoon.
Beloved husband of Noeleen and dear father of Lorraine, Sharon, Kevin and the late Garreth; Jimmy will be sadly missed by his loving wife, son, daughters, grandchildren, son-in-law Gavin, daughter-in-law Raya, his children’s partners Martin and Maria, brothers John, Peter, Ray and John, sisters Hannah Margaret, Martina, Louise and Elizabeth, mother-in-law Maisie, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.
“Always remember to look up at the night sky, and watch out for the stars”
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