Gary Colet has praised the ‘unsung heroes’ of the NHS who have helped him survive Covid after three months in Barnet Hospital (Picture: Royal Free Charity)
A father-of-two who was one of the first Covid patients at a London hospital has hailed the ‘unsung heroes’ who helped him survive.
Gary Colet described himself as a ‘guinea pig’ as he spent three months in Barnet Hospital, including seven weeks in intensive care.
The avid cyclist rapidly fell gravely ill and was left gasping for breath after returning from a holiday in Tenerife in March last year.
He was in a coma for seven weeks before coming round with terrifying nightmares, and is still suffering post-Covid syndrome almost a year on.
The retired management consultant, from Mill Hill, north London, credits his survival to cycling, blood thinners he had been taking for a heart condition and exemplary care right down to a cleaner who came into his room.
Barnet, Chase and Royal Free Hospital are part of Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which became one of the most under-pressure frontline services in the country. Overall, the authority had recorded 1,000 Covid deaths as of February 9, 2021.
They include Tony Brown, 73, a key worker who told how much he missed his wife before losing his fight with Covid in Barnet Hospital.
Gary Colet has described himself as a ‘guinea pig’ at Barnet Hospital after he was admitted with Covid in the first wave of the pandemic (Picture: Royal Free Charity)
Gary said: ‘At that time Covid was relatively unknown in terms of the treatment protocols, things like dexamethasone came later, and I was very much a guinea pig. It was a pretty rough time.
‘I was in intensive care for seven weeks in a coma and on a ventilator for five.
‘It was a pretty panicky time for me and my family and it’s probably for the best that I can’t remember anything from two days before I went in.’
The 62-year-old had cycled tough mountainous terrain in Tenerife a week before he found himself struggling to breathe as his health deteriorated.
He has racked his brains but does not know where he acquired the virus before he was admitted to hospital on March 20.
Gary Colet credits his passion for cycling for helping recover from Covid after seven weeks in intensive care (Picture: Gary Colet)
Gary said: ‘The next thing I remember is coming out of a coma in intensive care and there is a phenomenon called delirium where you are half conscious.
‘I thought someone was trying to murder me and I was being stabbed and suffocated. I had horrendous nightmares, it was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. It went on for some time until I fully came round.’
Even after being moved onto a ward to recover, he was effectively paralysed and was placed on oxygen with nasal and stomach tubes.
He was unable to eat solid food for two months.
Gary, a former competitive mountain biker, said: ‘One of the main things that saved me is at the time I was very fit for my age.
‘I’d just come back from cycling in Tenerife, where there are some big hills and I’d broken some of my personal best records.
‘Another thing that helped is the previous year I’d had a heart problem called ventricular fibrillation and I was on blood thinners. One of the most dangerous things about Covid when you’re in intensive care is blood clots, so it reduced the risk. Above all though, I owe my life to the staff in Barnet, who are heroes in the truest sense of the word.
‘They put their lives on the line for me and my recovery has been supported by the exceptional physios, nutritionists and psychologists since I’ve got home. The NHS is a modern day miracle.’
Gary is trying to overcome long Covid, which means he gets fatigued easily and his voice is weak. But he is putting on weight and has a three-hour daily exercise regime including cycling, pilates and yoga. Central to his recovery are the ‘unsung heroes’ who have given him a new lease of life.
Gary Colet had been mountain biking on holiday in Tenerife the week before he fell gravely ill with Covid and was admitted to hospital in London (Picture: Gary Colet)
‘I take nothing for granted now, every single day is a blessing,’ Gary said.
‘When I look around at other people I realise how lucky I am. I can’t say enough about the people who helped me back to recovery.
‘It wasn’t just the medics and therapists, there was a cleaner who would come into my room every day and always smile and tell me what was going on. I couldn’t talk to anybody other than on WhatsApp or the phone so he was central to my recovery.
‘The NHS cleaners and care assistants are the unsung heroes.’
The first documented Covid patient in London was admitted to Lewisham Hospital on February 9, 2020.
A year on, there have been more than 670,000 positive cases in the capital.
Gary and his wife Jenni have donated £3,000 to the unit that treated him and he is aiming to complete a 50-mile London to Brighton bike ride when restrictions allow. The fundraiser will be in aid of the Royal Free Charity, which supports all areas of the trust’s work.
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