A father who came close to dying from COVID-19 says he is ‘a lot better off in many ways’ and is determined to live a healthier lifestyle after suffering from the virus.
Daimon Keith was so ill from COVID, a ventilator was not enough to keep him alive. Instead, he needed the life-saving ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) unit at Wythenshawe Hospital – a machine which takes over a patient’s heart and lung functions to allow the organs to recover. It’s reserved for some of the most poorly patients and is one of only five adult ECMO centres in the country.
While Daimon fought for his life in hospital, his two sons wanted to show their support and gratitude to the team – and raised more than £9,000 for Wythenshawe Hospital Charity, which the Charity will use to support the ECMO department.
Daimon’s sons, Charlie and Henry, raised the money with a cycling challenge and said they’re glad COVID has encouraged their dad to lead a healthier lifestyle. Daimon has quit smoking and vaping, no longer drinks alcohol and has lost 30kg (about 4stone 10lb) since suffering from COVID.
Although on the road to recovery, ten months after leaving hospital, he is still feeling the effects of contracting the virus. Speaking for the first time about his experience, he said:
“I was morbidly obese when I contracted Coronavirus – I still think I would have ended up in hospital, but my weight certainly didn’t help my body’s ability to fight the virus.
“I’ve now quit smoking and drinking and, for the first time in my life, I’ve joined a gym. Obviously, I can’t go at the moment, but I can’t wait for them to reopen.
“It’s been a challenging, tough journey, and I’m still not 100%, but there have been lots of positives. It’s tough for people who have lost someone, and I feel very thankful and lucky that I survived. I have long term damage on the bottom of my lungs, but I’m taking positives from it – you can get fit and change your life.
“After COVID, I’m a lot better off in many ways – I’m not stronger than I was before, as I’m still recovering, but I’m definitely healthier. I have no intention of going back to my old lifestyle.
“The boys have been really supportive, and I’m so proud of the fundraising they did. They initially thought they’d try to raise £1,000 so no one ever expected to get it to £9,000.
“I’m incredibly proud of them.”
Daimon, who lives in Old Trafford with his wife Dorcus, first became ill in March 2020. Having just returned from a fishing trip on the Zambezi River he initially thought he’d contracted malaria.
“I came back on the 1st March 2020, and on the 18th I started to feel like my breathing was quite laboured, and I had a temperature, I lived in Africa for three or four years, and I thought all the symptoms were similar to malaria.
“I had to lay down, and my breathing was getting worse, so on the 23rd, I rang an ambulance from home. I knew something wasn’t right. I’m not a drama queen – I wouldn’t ever waste a doctor’s time as I know how pressured things can be for them – but I knew I needed to get to hospital before it was too late.”
Paramedics drove Daimon to the Emergency Department at Wythenshawe Hospital. In the back of the ambulance, he remembered feeling delirious and was shifting in and out of consciousness. At the hospital, a chest X-ray caused concern for the medical teams.
“You don’t realise how sick you are or what is going to happen. I remember coming round at one point, and my wife was stood in the corner, and my brother was on the other side of a glass window. My wife is Kenyan, and she has only lived here for two years. I remember telling my brother that he would have to sort everything out for her. I guess I was preparing for what would happen if I died, but I wasn’t conscious of that at the time.”
After that, Daimon doesn’t remember much – just sounds on the ward and coming in and out of consciousness. The team looking after him decided the best way to treat Daimon was place him on the ECMO machine – to help his organs recover from the COVID. The next time he woke up, it was seven weeks later.
“They knocked me out on the day I went in, 23rd March. The next time I woke up, I was on the respiratory ward, and it was mid-May. I couldn’t believe I’d lost seven weeks – I’d missed my mum’s birthday and Henry’s birthday – so much had happened while I’d been unconscious.”
Daimon had lost almost 40kg at this point and had suffered muscle wastage. (He’s since gained back some of the weight by building up his muscle mass.) The ECMO machine had undoubtedly saved his life, but he then had to re-learn walking, eating and doing basic things he’d taken for granted.
“Losing seven weeks was very weird – I hadn’t known that the Prime Minister got COVID, I didn’t know about the country completely changing in April. Life in England had changed massively from when I’d come into hospital. It took a while for everything to sink in.
“I had muscle wastage, but I also struggled to concentrate – mentally, I was very feeble. I found watching TV quite difficult and some programmes were hard to follow.
“Having to start again was hard, and I set myself little goals. I had so many machines and tubes on me when I first woke up, one of my first goals was to get rid of something attached to me. Two of the most exciting days in hospital were getting a proper shower (rather than a bed bath) and going outside for the first time in a wheelchair. Standing under the hot water and then being outside with the sunshine on my face were two of the best experiences.”
Daimon spent nine weeks in hospital – two weeks on ECMO and seven weeks in Intensive Care and respiratory wards. His COVID test on 18th April (just under four weeks after he was admitted) showed the Coronavirus had left his system, but his recovery was to take much longer.
“Everyone at Wythenshawe was absolutely fantastic. I just can’t thank them enough for everything they did. It’s not a job for them – it’s a vocation. They are incredibly caring.”
Charlie and Henry, who live with their mum in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, felt they wanted to do something constructive while their dad was ill in hospital.
Henry, 15, said:
“We like cycling anyway, and it was about the only thing we could really do during the lockdown. We decided to cycle the Pednor Loop, which is a really hilly 10km loop near our house. We did it once a day for 69 days – the total amount of time dad was in hospital.”
His older brother Charlie, aged 17, said:
“We initially thought we’d raise about £1,000, but then the fundraising page just kept going up. We raised £9,033.31 in total and then my grandma and auntie gave another £550 at Christmas. It’s an amazing amount of money. We heard a day on the ECMO machine costs the NHS about £10,000, so it’s nice to think we’ve almost done a day’s worth.”
Although they live far apart, the boys have been able to see their dad on weekends and for Christmas and look forward to the day they can go on holiday together again. This is permissible under the COVID separated parents rules, as both parents take turns in having the boys stay with them.
All the funds raised by Charlie, Henry and their family will go to Wythenshawe Hospital Charity, which supports continuing excellence in treatment, research and care and has three main areas of work:
• to provide state-of-the-art equipment for diagnosis and treatment
• to support research projects to improve our understanding of illnesses
• to help create an environment that’s more friendly and welcoming to our patients, families, and visitors.
The Keith family’s fundraising has been ring-fenced for the ECMO unit, so it can help patients and families who need the life-saving treatment for heart and lung conditions.
Wythenshawe Hospital Charity’s Community Fundraising Officer, Jo Thomas, said:
“The whole team here at Wythenshawe is incredibly grateful to Daimon’s family for all their incredible support.
“Daimon is rightly very proud of his sons, and we’re so pleased this experience has led him towards a healthier lifestyle too. We wish Daimon the best of luck in the rest of his recovery.”
To find out more about Wythenshawe Hospital Charity, please visit: www.mftcharity.org.uk/wythenshawe