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Ballymena family's relief after pensioner Tommy O'Neill recovers from coronavirus


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Tommy O'Neill with his wife Shirley at home in Ballymena

Tommy O'Neill with his wife Shirley at home in Ballymena

Tommy O'Neill with his wife Shirley at home in Ballymena

A 72-year-old Co Antrim man is recovering at home after spending over a month in hospital battling Covid-19 - the first time he has ever been separated from his wife of 52 years.

Tommy O'Neill from Ballymena spent 21 days on a ventilator and a total of 33 days between the Antrim Area and NHS Nightingale Hospital in Belfast after he and wife Shirley contracted the virus while holidaying in Spain.

A week after his discharge, his granddaughter Rebeka Law said the family are amazed by the speed of his recovery after fearing the worst when he was first admitted to intensive care.

The ordeal was particularly hard on his wife Shirley, who he met aged 13 and has never spent even one day away from.

"They've never been apart from each other, so she was heartbroken when he was in hospital," Rebeka said.

"They will be 53 years married in August. Granny always said she would promise heaven and earth to bring Granda back again. We're just so grateful."

Tommy underwent major heart surgery at the age of 35, which Rebeka said added to the anxiety that her grandfather would never make it home. Now he is back on his feet doing tasks around the house, has returned his Zimmer frame and is attempting to claim back his life.

"There's still a long way to go but he's doing fantastic," Rebeka said.

"They told us he would have to learn to walk again due to his age and how long he spent on a ventilator but even a week since he returned home, he's walking about by himself and is back to normal as much as possible."

Speaking of her family's ordeal, the Ballymena woman said the lack of communication with her grandfather, paired with the fact that no one could visit, made things particularly agonising.

"His hospital stay was a scary time. As a family we had no communication whatsoever and relied on a phone call once a day from a doctor with a basic update," she said.

"The hardest part was the 24 hour waits, your whole life is on hold until you get that call."

Now over the moon that her grandfather is on the mend, Rebeka paid tribute to the healthcare professionals who cared for Tommy and said her family was touched by the efforts of medics to keep in touch.

"Our gratitude for the staff is unbelievable. Every single member of staff that has been involved in Granddad's care, whether it be domestic, nursing staff, doctors or those bringing dinner. The humanity shown by the doctors was very touching. When we were on the phone crying, they were on the phone crying back to us. It's hard for them as well. The care was outstanding and I know Granddad wouldn't be recovering now if it hadn't have been for them."

The wider O'Neill family believe they have been given a second chance to enjoy life with Tommy.

Rebeka continued: "The only thing the virus hasn't taken from us is our love. It's bonded us a family - all the quarrels that we've ever had disappeared.

"There's a long journey to recovery when people get out of hospital - he was a very active man before this. We're relieved and amazed."

Belfast Telegraph