A fit and healthy dad-of-three described the terrifying moment he was told to make his “last phone call” as Covid-19 almost took his life.
Darren Buttrick, 49, said he thought “this could be it” as doctors warned him his body was “shutting down” when the virus took over his lungs back in March.
Darren, who lives in Coven, Staffordshire, recollects how he was called by the NHS and told he had tested positive – despite him having no underlying health condition.
“I remember watching the news that day and it said they were reporting the first 2,000 cases of coronavirus in the UK – and I thought I’m one of the first 2,000 to have it. I thought I was really unlucky,” he said.
Darren, who works for O2, suspects he contracted the virus while commuting to London for a business trip.
“I started to feel ill, it was just an unwell feeling first. Four days later I was taken to New Cross by ambulance, I had a very high temperature and was struggling to breathe.
“It wasn’t confirmed Covid at the time – I really didn’t think I had got it if I am honest, as it was very early in the pandemic.”
He was told to self-isolate and wait for the results of his Covid-19 test before being called on March 17 and being told he was positive.
Darren’s condition gradually got worse during the week until he went to bed early one night and started having “laboured breathing”.
“My daughter came in and she could hear me panting for breath – and she asked if I was ok. I asked her to go and get her mum, I couldn’t open my eyes, I was dreadful.
“It was like being strangled, like being short-changed of breath.”
He was taken to A&E, where he recalls being surrounded by doctors and nurses in PPE telling him he would be put on oxygen.
“But they were saying I was past that, that my body was starting to shut down,” he said.
“They told me it was going to be intensive care, on a ventilator and in a coma – they said they had no option, and it was the only way to save me now.
“I was told there was still a risk with it as it was an unknown virus.
“They said you’ve got 15 minutes now while we prep you to ring your loved ones and tell them, you need to prepare yourself that this could be your last phone call – so whatever you want to say, say it because you are very, very ill.
“I was crying and begging to them ‘don’t let me die’.
“I was thinking, I may never wake up from this – this could be it.”
Darren was on a ventilator for six days but his body had an adverse reaction when he was taken off it, so he ended up having to be ventilated again.
“A nurse was telling me I was ok, I’d survived, I was off the ventilator.”
Darren was transferred to another ward, where he spent a further two days, before he was discharged home.
He says it took him a good month to recover afterwards – to get to “feeling about 90 per cent”.
Darren beat the virus and is now about to make his 15th donation of antibody-rich “convalescent plasma”, which is undergoing clinical trials as a treatment for other coronavirus patients.
The plasma is transfused into patients who are struggling to develop their own immune response. The antibodies could slow or stop the virus spreading, which could save lives.
“Now you can donate weekly, so for the last four weeks I’ve been doing it weekly,” Darren said.
“For me it was about giving back. The NHS saved me, I know how very ill I was. People think if you’ve got asthma, or a heart problem or a liver problem, you’re prone to get it – but I had no underlying health issues, I don’t take any tablets, I go to the gym, I’m fit and healthy.
“But it took over my lungs. My official diagnosis was Covid-19 pneumonia serious respiratory failure, that’s what my discharge letter said.
“It can happen to anyone – I’m just a normal, middle-aged man, married with three children, fit and healthy, with no underlying health conditions – but it almost took my life.
“Donating my plasma has helped me get over the emotions of having Covid and the bad way I had it – it’s helped my emotional recovery.
“It’s the feeling of giving back – and helping others. I have now donated 14 times – I have hopefully helped 14 people avoid intensive care, avoid a coma, avoid a ventilator and ultimately avoid death I hope.
“I will keep donating until my body tells me I can’t.”