'I thought my daughter would grow up without her dad'

Cheryl Waters and Olly Toole with baby Lily. Olly is in a wheelchair, Cheryl is sitting beside him. He is holding Lily in his lap. Both the adults are wearing face masks.

Published on 27 April 2022

A couple whose daughter was born while her dad was being treated for Covid-19 in the same hospital have urged people to take the virus seriously.

At one point, Cheryl Waters thought baby Lily would grow up without dad Olly Toole, as she was called to say goodbye.

But after more than three months in hospital, in London and the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, he was finally able to go home three days after her birth.

The couple, who live in Sturry, are now adjusting to life as a family while Olly continues his recovery from the virus which almost cost him his life.

Cheryl, 30, said: “When I first found out I was pregnant, never in my wildest dreams did I think this is what would happen.

“If I think back to everything we have been through it seems almost unreal. I was seven months pregnant when I had to go to London to say my goodbyes – that was the hardest day of my life.

“The ward was full of other men his age in the same situation – it was heart-breaking to think of those other families having to live through what I was experiencing.”

Olly first tested positive for the virus in December, and immediately felt unwell. His condition deteriorated and he found it hard to breathe, so the couple dialled 999 and he was taken to the QEQM by ambulance.

The 32 year old, who works in digital construction design, said: “At first I thought it would go away but it just got worse.

“When I got to hospital, the doctors said my oxygen levels were low and my blood pressure wasn’t great either. But I still didn’t think it was that serious.

“I was taken to intensive care but I wasn’t on a ventilator so I thought I was improving, but on Boxing Day things started going downhill.”

He was transferred to a specialist ward at St Thomas’s Hospital in London where blood was pumped to a machine that removes carbon dioxide, with oxygen-filled blood being sent back to his body.

Cheryl, who also tested positive but recovered well, said: “The hospital called me on Boxing Day to say he was going on a ventilator and they held the phone to his ear for about 10 seconds so I could talk to him.

“It was horrendous, but thankfully he doesn’t remember it.

“It seems everyone has an opinion, because Olly hadn’t got round to getting his vaccination, but there were people on that ward in London who were vaccinated and had the booster and they were still there.

“We are so grateful to the staff at St Thomas’s and the QEQM – they were so nice and supportive to both of us and I couldn’t have wished for better nurses or physios. They all went out of their way for us, and even the man on reception and the car park attendant were lovely.

“I thought it was just old people who got really ill from Covid – I never thought it would affect Olly like it has.

“It was really hard to hear everyone talking about how the virus has gone away and we need to get back to life as it was before, when he was so ill in hospital.”

Olly spent four weeks in hospital in London before being transferred back to intensive care at the QEQM. He was unable to speak because he had a tube in his throat to help him breath, and also couldn’t stand or walk.

He suffered internal bleeding and infections which slowed his recovery down and left him feeling frustrated.

He said: “The last thing I remember is thinking I was getting better, then suddenly I woke up and I couldn’t talk, or eat or drink.

“I had to mouth what I wanted to say and it was quite hard for people to understand, so it was frustrating.

“Cheryl was due to give birth and at one point they thought I would have to be wheeled down to maternity on the ventilator, so I’m really grateful that didn’t happen.

“Having Lily has definitely given me extra motivation – once she was born I was desperate to go home.

“I had to have a bed downstairs for a while but now I can go upstairs and I’m getting stronger every day.

“The physios have been fantastic and now I just want to look forward and be able to do more with Lily as she grows.”

Physiotherapist Abigail Pownall, who worked with Olly at the QEQM, said it was fantastic to see him progress, from needing help to move his limbs to being able to walk out of hospital with crutches.

She said: “Olly has worked so hard on his recovery and has really beaten the odds; he is an inspiration to us all. His determination to get home to Cheryl and Lily was amazing.

“When Olly was first able to sit on the edge of the bed in intensive care, he found soaking his feet in warm water helped with the loss of sensation. He helped us secure funding from the League of Friends of the QEQM for a foot spa which can be used for other patients. 

“Olly is continuing to progress with his physiotherapy at home and has been referred to the Long Covid clinic to continue to manage his symptoms.”