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Two local pastors who fought own battles with Covid-19 wish Boris Johnson well

Mark McClurg

A pastor who was in intensive care with coronavirus has offered his best wishes to Boris Johnson.

Mark McClurg (40) of Newtownards Elim church spent seven days in ICU on a breathing machine.

He said the experience had been physically and mentally exhausting, but NHS workers and messages of support had kept him going.

A second pastor, Lee McClelland (40) of the Ark Church in north Belfast, spent nine days in critical care, requiring an oxygen mask 24 hours a day to be able to breathe.

Mr McClurg told the Belfast Telegraph: "Being in ICU is hard. There's no change in condition for the first five to seven days and that's very difficult.

"I was getting hundreds of messages asking if there was any updates but there was nothing to say.

"You will either die or recover, which is why it's so important to encourage people."

He said more than 160,000 people had seen a message he posted on Twitter praying for the Prime Minister and the NHS staff at his bedside.

Mr McClurg required the use of a continuous positive airway pressure oxygen machine, which uses a face mask, but was not progressed to an invasive mechanical ventilator.

"It's like you're trying to breathe underwater, every breath is a struggle," he explained.

"From the Tuesday to Saturday I felt I was running a continuous marathon, with shortness of breath and pain in my chest."

On the Saturday Mr McClurg said his wife had been told he would be put on a mechanical ventilator if he did not show improvement.

"It was so hard. I can understand why they're sedating people," he added.

"The hardest part of going through it all is not being able to see your family. I know coronavirus is deadly, but not being able to see your family or hold your wife's hand is probably the hardest thing."

He was told the recovery time for his pneumonia alone was seven to nine weeks.

"When people get out, their lungs are going to be tender. So every day it's about doing a wee bit like walking or breathing exercises. Your mental health is so important too, and my simple message to people is to be kind."

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Lee McClelland

Lee McClelland

Lee McClelland

Pastor McClelland was not admitted to ICU but spent nine days in critical care wearing an oxygen mask.

He described his ordeal as "horrendous".

"You're just so grateful for the doctors and nurses doing their job," Mr McClelland said. "The care and the attention they give you is absolutely phenomenal and I'm sure the Prime Minister will be getting exactly the same.

"I required 24 hours a day of oxygen wearing a face mask. The only time I was allowed that off was when I was attempting to eat.

"It had to be on even when I was sleeping as the oxygen levels in my lungs had gone to dangerously low levels."

He said the oxygen levels had to keep increasing before he could manage on his own.

"Without it I just couldn't breathe, you really felt the difference in your lungs," he recalled.

"There was a bathroom right beside the bed but going to the toilet was like running a marathon. I was crawling back to my bed because you don't have the lung capacity to do anything, so that was horrendous."

Part of his recovery involved sitting in a chair to keep his lungs in an upright position.

Now recovering at home, Mr McClelland said he still has some way to go in terms of improving his lung capacity and energy levels.

"The joy from when my wife came to pick me up and just the joy of walking in and seeing the kids, even being able to hug them again, was fantastic," he said.

Belfast Telegraph