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'When you think you're going to die, leaving a wife and three kids... it's hard,' says Pastor McClurg, who contracted Covid-19

Pastor Mark McClurg talks about his fight to survive

A pastor who was left fighting for his life after contracting Covid-19 has said his main concern now is for the health of others, including his wife, who may herself be infected.

Mark McClurg admitted that he fears he may have transmitted the potentially lethal virus to several people.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from his bed in the coronavirus ward of the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Mr McClurg said he has no idea when he will be discharged, having spent the last week in intensive care.

The 40-year-old, who is still on oxygen but out of immediate danger, said his near-death experience has brought home the importance of self isolation and social distancing.

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"If we can all just be a bit kinder, more sensible, smarter, stop being selfish, and stay indoors, we can get through this," said Pastor McClurg, who is being kept in isolation.

"I'm so thankful for the hard work of the ICU team in the Ulster over the past week.

"They've been working day and night to save my life."

In an interview with this newspaper, the pastor's wife Claire (42) revealed on Tuesday that the father of their three children ­- Liliana (5) and twin boys Josiah and Judah (2) - has a long road to recovery ahead of him.

But last night, her husband - who was hitherto fit and healthy with no underlying health conditions - said that leaving intensive care was definitely "a step in the right direction".

"The problem with coronavirus is that it sucks the life out of your lungs," he said.

"Somehow I also got pneumonia, so I'm struggling on two fronts.

"Breathing is hard and because I've spent a week just fighting to breathe, my energy is low.

"Coronavirus is still in my body. In the days ahead it will begin to get better but recovery is going to take a long time."

The evangelical pastor of Newtownards Elim Church recalled one particularly harrowing moment when he called his wife to say goodbye.

"I phoned Claire before I went into ICU, I really thought 'this is it'," he said.

"I told her I believed I was going to die. I said I needed her to come, so she rushed to be with me in hospital and I prayed for my life.

"I said 'Lord, I'm ready for Heaven but I'm not ready to say goodbye to my family, they need me'. I was trying to fight for them."

Her frantic dash to Dundonald came prior to his positive Covid-19 diagnosis, however, and Mark expressed his fears about others who visited him that same day. "A few people who saw me back then, including Claire, may well have the virus now," he said.

Mark, who is a healthy and strongly built man, is not a typical coronavirus patient and he did not display any of the symptoms typical of the disease before falling ill.

"I don't drink or smoke, and I've no underlying conditions, but I got it," the Glengormley native said, adding that he believes coronavirus poses a risk to all of humanity.

"If somebody you love, your family or friends, has to come into ICU with coronavirus they're going to struggle to breathe and they're going to be in danger," he said.

"I have strength because I'm fit and I was able to keep on pushing but this is deadly. This coronavirus is out to kill us all.

"It doesn't matter if you're a Protestant or a Catholic, coronavirus doesn't care.

"This idea that it's for over 70s or over 80s is misplaced.

"I'm 40, fit and healthy and this has been the toughest week of my life."

He said his survival was down to our excellent healthcare workers.

"You have to remember the doctors have been doing all they can to keep me alive," he said, describing what it feels like to battle the virus.

"It's like trying to breathe under water... we all know that's impossible.

"Your whole energy is just consumed with trying to take one breath."

Pastor McClurg said his church family helped him get through the long, dark, sleepless nights.

"You want to sleep but you can't because you've got this full oxygen mask on to force oxygen into your lungs even though you're not breathing," he said.

"What really helped me was our church prayer WhatsApp group.

"I could see that someone was praying for me from night until morning.

"I couldn't respond because I'd no energy but I could watch what they were doing and it was so amazing."

Although Mark knows he will not be discharged any time soon, he said that it is a small price to pay for his recovery.

"It's going to take a while for me to get off the oxygen and the physiotherapists will then have to get my strength back up," he said.

"I've been out of bed a couple of times and I shuffled like a 90-year-old man.

"But when you're thinking you're going to die, you're thinking you're leaving behind a wife and a widow and three small children... it's hard."

He added: "The only thing I kept on thinking was that I have to stay alive for them."

Pastor McClurg's main concern now is for the medical professionals who are keeping Covid-19 patients alive.

"The amazing staff in our NHS know they are going to get coronavirus at some stage," he said.

"I've seen their faces. I've spoken to them. They all know that.

"The scary thing is they've all seen me and they're all young and healthy and they don't know if they'll be like me.

"We've been asked by the government to stay at home whereas their job is to go into coronavirus wards... I do know what that is like for them and their families so we must stop going out unnecessarily.

"This is dangerous. If we don't stay six feet apart we're going to end up six feet under."

He added: "The heart and soul of Northern Ireland now is our NHS staff.

"There are only so many beds... it will get to a stage when the beds run out and they're going to have to pick and choose who lives and who dies."

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