'I thought Covid wouldn't affect me - but I almost died from the virus'

Donald Williamson is reunited with wife Jane as he leaves hospital. They are pictured embracing in a hospital corridor as staff look on

Published on 22 February 2021

A grandfather has spoken of the moment he finally got to hug his wife after a month-long battle with coronavirus.

Donald Williamson was wheeled out of the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford to applause by staff, who lined the corridors to wish him well.

Waiting to take him home was his wife Jane, and the couple’s reunion embrace moved many of those watching to tears.

Donald, now recovering at home in Shepherdswell, near Dover, said he couldn’t describe the feeling of being able to go home to his family – after doctors warned him there was a 30 per cent chance he would die from the virus.

He said: “I just got out of the wheelchair and hugged her. I haven’t got the words to describe how happy I was.

“It felt wonderful to know I was going to live. The staff in that hospital saved my life and every single one was absolutely wonderful, from the nurses and doctors to the woman who brought me a cup of tea every night.

“I wasn’t ready to die and when I was wheeled out and everyone clapped I just got so emotional.”

The 76 year old, who has four children and three grandchildren, was admitted at the start of January after falling ill just after Christmas.

An initial coronavirus swab was negative but when his breathing deteriorated his wife dialled 999.

Donald, who worked in merchant banking before taking over his late father’s plumbing firm and then going on to work as a housebuilder, said: “I thought I would be there for a few days, that I just needed some oxygen.

“But I was there for four and a half weeks. When they told me I had pneumonia and Covid, I was speechless.

“The doctor told me I had a 30 per cent chance of dying. I really believe I was on the tipping point. I could have died.

“When you can see death at the door facing you, you realise life is wonderful and I am so grateful to everyone for saving my life.”

Donald is one of more than 4,500 people who have been able to go home to their families after being cared for by East Kent Hospitals staff since the start of the pandemic.

He is getting stronger by the day, and is determined to get back to full fitness – pre-Covid, he ran one and a half miles each day and regularly swam and worked out in the gym.

He said: “I do push myself but I am doing things I never thought I would do again.

“I just wish the public could spend 10 minutes in those wards and see what it is really like.

“I was as bad as everyone else; I thought I was invincible, I thought it wasn’t going to affect me, and I almost died.

“There was a 22 year old who ended up going to intensive care, and there were people in my ward who died.

“That made me more determined to live. I can’t paint a rosy picture of what it’s like when you are ill with Covid and they are trying to save you.

“But they have a way of giving you the treatment you need and making you want to have it. I knew I had to have an inner fight to get through it but I am eternally grateful to the staff for everything they did for me.”

Donald and his wife particularly praised deputy head of nursing Paula Knights, who called Jane each day to update her on his condition.

Doctors also spoke to his family via Facetime – including his youngest son who is training to be a doctor in Manchester.

Donald said: “I can’t stress enough how brilliant Paula was. She took a real interest in all of us, and she helped me and my wife no end.

“My family were all rooting for me and not being able to see them in person was the worst part.

“The staff become like family – the student nurses were so dedicated at caring for people, and they all have so much to deal with all the time.

“They are brilliant at what they do. They are dealing with something no one has had to deal with before – it’s not like having a heart attack or an operation where they know the path you will take.

“With Covid, you could die within weeks or be in hospital for months and no one knows.

“I am just so grateful that I have my life back, and for the wonderful care and treatment I received.”