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Coronavirus: Belfast man Terry Nellis dies in US as family say farewell over phone

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Terry Nellis, originally from north Belfast, died in a New York hospital

Terry Nellis, originally from north Belfast, died in a New York hospital

Terry Nellis, originally from north Belfast, died in a New York hospital

More than 3,000 miles from his family, on an intensive care ward in a New York hospital, Terry Nellis listened to the voices from home in his final two hours of life.

"That was a great comfort to us and it still is now," his brother Brendan told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's the one thing we can hang on to until we can properly say goodbye."

The 57-year-old, who left north Belfast in the mid-1980s, died on April 1.

"The hardest part is that even if we had wanted to be there with Terry, we couldn't," said Brendan. "This virus is not only robbing us of people we love, it's robbing us of our culture. We're a big family, a family of huggers," he said. "We all so much wanted to hug Terry one last time.

"He loved nothing more than St Patrick's Day in New York and he'd been a big campaigner on LGBT rights.

"He wanted nothing more than to have the honour of walking in the New York parade and finally, in 2016, he got his wish."

Brendan said the family first found out Terry had contracted the virus just over two weeks ago.

"Terry spent the last 25 years as a social work manager for people with learning difficulties," said Brendan.

"A couple of his colleagues had gone down with coronavirus and he told us he'd tested positive too. He decided to self-isolate as he wasn't feeling too bad.

"But it got worse. He suffered from sleep apnoea and was using a ventilator he had to help him sleep, but the virus really took hold and he had to go to hospital.

"They tried him on a new drug but after a couple of days he was placed on ventilation and morphine as his lungs were in so much pain and they decided to place him in a coma.

For two days he fought, but on April 1 we got the call that he only had a couple of hours left.

"A nurse said she had Terry's phone in her hand. She told us the last thing to go when someone was dying would be their hearing. If we had anything to say to Terry she would hold the phone to his ear so he could hear our voices in his final moments. We know Terry wasn't alone.

"The plan is for his husband Juan to scatter some of Terry's ashes in Mexico and then we'll bring Terry home so he can rest beside our parents in Carnmoney cemetery and finally at a bench in Newcastle, where we sat and talked about the world.

"We will all have that peace, even if it takes us a year."

Belfast Telegraph