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Coronavirus: Newtownabbey grandmother Catherine Fox created online NHS fundraiser from hospital bed just days before she died


Catherine Fox and daughter Sarah

Catherine Fox and daughter Sarah

Catherine Fox and daughter Sarah

A grandmother who was fighting for her life after contracting Covid-19 set up a fundraising page for the NHS from her hospital bed, days before she passed away.

Kathleen Fox, known to friends and family as Catherine, was taken by ambulance to Antrim Area Hospital on April 16 after struggling for breath and feeling increasingly unwell.

The grandmother-of-seven died in the early hours of Monday last week, moments after her daughter Sarah Fox said goodbye on the phone.

"I hadn't slept a wink and at 4.40am I got a call from the hospital saying that Mum was close to the end," said Sarah, from Newtownabbey. "They said if I wanted to call her they would hold the phone up to her ear so I could say goodbye. It was awful, but I told her I'd love her forever, and got to say my goodbyes."

And while the situation has been devastating, Sarah said the family have taken comfort from the great care her mother received from medics.

"It's an inhumane situation for everyone going through this, but the staff were brilliant with her," she added. "One nurse in particular befriended her and we took solace from that, knowing she wasn't alone even though we couldn't be with her like we'd have wanted."

As she comes to terms with her grief, Sarah, mum to eight-year-old Gabrielle, wants to remember her mother for all the great things she did in her life, and for her final act of kindness in the days before her death.

"Mum should have turned 69 on Saturday (April 25)," said Sarah. "So sitting in hospital the week before her birthday, she set up a fundraiser for the NHS on her Facebook page asking people to donate, rather than getting presents.

"She'd actually started to feel a lot better and was trying to do something positive. When she went in on the Thursday, she was really unwell and had pneumonia on both lungs. But by the time we spoke to her on Friday, she was like a different person. She was being treated with oxygen and she sounded great.

"Her positive result came back for the virus that afternoon, but at the same time she sounded so much better and she was telling us about all the staff and how they couldn't do enough for her.

"We started to think, great, she can get through this, she can recover, and on the Saturday she set up her donation page. She wanted to raise money for the staff and, considering what she was going through, it was kind and selfless and loving. That's how we'll remember her."

But by Sunday Catherine, who was also mum to Sarah's siblings Stephen Fox and Suzanne Redburn, had started to deteriorate.

"I spoke to her around 10pm and things were obviously worse," said Sarah. "I don't know that she realised how dangerously ill she was. She passed away the following morning."

Catherine, who spent most of her career helping bereaved families as a claims handler with an insurance firm, had gone into self-isolation at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

"Mum had COPD, so right from the start we knew she shouldn't be taking any risks," said Sarah (40). "She lived in a ground-floor flat in Newtownabbey, just around the corner from me, and she hadn't been out for five weeks.

"We were dropping groceries over to her and talking to her through the window, but she wasn't going out at all. She didn't have anyone in the flat either, so we don't even understand how she got it.

"The doctors said she might have got it by touching something in the communal part of the flats where she lived or even from something that was delivered to her. We'll never know."

And like other bereaved relatives struggling with loss during lockdown, Sarah and her family have not yet had the chance to give Catherine, who loved to sew and bake with her grandchildren, a proper send-off.

Catherine's Birthday Fundraiser for NHS Charities Together is on Facebook.

Belfast Telegraph