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Pastor Mark McClurg was at death's door, but with the help of God and Northern Ireland medics he is pulling through, says wife


Mark and Claire McClurg with their children Lilianna (5) and two-year-old twin boys Josiah and Judah

Mark and Claire McClurg with their children Lilianna (5) and two-year-old twin boys Josiah and Judah

Mark and Claire McClurg with their children Lilianna (5) and two-year-old twin boys Josiah and Judah

If you think you are too young, too fit or too healthy to have your life threatened by coronavirus, think again. Better still, have a word with Claire McClurg.

Her 40-year-old husband Mark remains in intensive care today, having spent the past week fighting for his life after falling victim to Covid-19.

The evangelical pastor, who did not have any underlying health conditions, has, according to wife Claire, finally "turned the corner" on the road to recovery. However, they both feared he would be another casualty of a disease that has put the world on pause.

It certainly turned Claire and Mark's world upside down 10 days ago.

"He fell very ill all of a sudden," said Claire.

"His back was very sore, then he had to be hospitalised because of breathing difficulties.

"A few hours later he was in ICU, having been diagnosed with the virus. His breathing got very bad. It was really scary.

"Twice I thought I was going to lose him.

"Mark has since told me there was a couple of times that he thought, 'This is it'.

"I knew by the way he was talking that he was worried. He told me to stay on the phone because he just wanted to hear my voice.

"Mark said to God, 'Lord, I'm ready to meet you, but Claire and the children need me'."

Mark is not what you would call a typical coronavirus patient. He is fit and healthy 6ft 4in, strongly built man, some 30 years younger than those worst affected.

Yet he ended up on a ventilator in intensive care at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, with Claire's only comfort coming from doctors who promised her they would "do their best" for him.

"You're asking for some reassurance that he's going to be okay and they can't give it," said the 42-year-old, who grew up on a farm in Portaferry.

"That was a very scary moment and it became even more terrifying last weekend when he took a turn for the worse.

"Friday night was really bad. On Saturday morning I got a call from the consultant saying he'd deteriorated, his body was getting very tired and he was very weak."

Thankfully, though, the worst of their ordeal seems to be over. "He had a good night on Monday," Claire said.

"I'd be confident now in saying he's turned a corner, but it's been quite the journey."

Glengormley native Mark, who lives in Newtownards where he is the pastor of an Elim Church, did not initially display any of the symptoms normally associated with coronavirus when he fell ill.

"We were checking for a cough and high temperature, but he didn't have those," Claire recalled.

Despite her obvious relief, Claire is well aware that the father of the couple's three children - Lilianna (5) and two-year-old twin boys Josiah and Judah - is not completely out of the woods yet.

"It will be a long road to full recovery for him," she said.

"There could be permanent damage. His lungs were badly damaged because he went into a state of pneumonia."

Although Claire concedes that Mark was "an extreme case" and that Covid-19 remains most dangerous for the elderly and those with underlying conditions, she urged people to listen to the authorities and stay at home.

"I would hate anyone else to have to go through this," she said.

"With this illness someone can be sitting up in their hospital bed and talking, so you think they're fine, but that's not the case.

"It's not like someone being ill for days and then slipping away. They could be talking to you one minute and away the next. Mark was able to talk, although weak, yet he could have died a few hours later."

For a close-knit family, Mark's hospitalisation has proved difficult for his nearest and dearest.

"This is a very lonely illness," said Mrs McClurg.

"It's very hard. We still can't go and see him and we're in isolation ourselves."

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, primary one pupil Lilianna has been able to catch up with her on-the-mend father, who is still in an isolation unit virtually.

"Even though Mark has tubes in, she can see him on Facetime," Claire said.

"Seeing her daddy has really helped her, especially the last couple of days when he's perked up. She's able to ask him what he's had for breakfast."

Claire is self-isolating with the children and mum Diane McWhinney (73).

She has been feeling under the weather of late.

"I've had aches and pains and been off my food, but I wouldn't be interested in going for a test because there's other people out there who need it more than me," she said.

"We're not near anybody, we're all okay and Mark's improving - that's the main thing."

In the darkest days and nights when it was touch-and-go regarding Mark's survival, Claire said she was buoyed by the support she received from the community and their church family.

"Neighbours and good friends in the church have got me milk and left food at the door," she said.

"We have a church prayer group on WhatsApp and people have been up constantly praying for Mark.

"There's a rota, so he's being prayed for 24 hours a day.

"There are also churches in Africa, Swaziland, Ukraine and Australia praying for him.

"We've had overwhelming support since this all began and it's been lovely.

"Mark's got his phone with him now.

"Obviously, he wasn't able to use it up until recently, but he's getting more active on it now and he's realising just how much support he has."

It was ironic when Mark contracted Covid-19 because, prior to that, he had been actively encouraging his congregation to focus on health and hygiene.

"Mark is very particular and meticulous," Claire said.

"He always has a hand sanitiser with him because he's in and out of hospitals and sick people's homes all the time.

"In church two or three weeks ago, long before we were actually advised to do so, he read out the whole NHS guidelines about the importance of washing your hands. We got single-use towels and stopped hand-shaking."

Describing their faith as being "central to who we are", Claire said God has been a great source of strength during the recent highly challenging times.

"Even though Mark has technically been on his own, he's never felt alone because of his strong faith and unshakeable love for the Lord," she explained.

"It must be so hard for someone who doesn't have that when they're sick because at a time like that you want people around you."

Despite the hardship of recent days, Claire thinks it will be worth it if Mark's story proves to be a cautionary tale for anyone who still does not realise how serious things are.

"Mark has now experienced our remarkable healthcare workers first-hand," she told this newspaper.

"We don't want to see any of them being hurt or harmed. They're on the front line.

"Doctors in Italy and elsewhere have died.

"It's not just about us recovering. It's about them keeping safe as well.

"Let's not forget that these people have families, just like us."

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