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COVID-19: The nightmare of one father as coronavirus hit his family

Imagine being told to prepare for the worst: your pregnant partner, and the unborn baby inside her, are unlikely to survive. 

That is exactly what Tommy Larkins was told.

The young father rushed his wife Elsa to Kingston Hospital just after Christmas.

She was critically ill with COVID-19.

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Tommy was told to prepare for the worst

Elsa is just 34 years old. She has no underlying health issues – but she was heavily pregnant.

Tommy said: “It was a life-threatening situation for her and our unborn baby. It was terrifying, the most terrifying thing I’ve been through.

“To potentially lose the pair of them on the same night was terrible. I’d never wish it on anybody else.”

Once in hospital, Elsa’s health deteriorated quickly. She was moved to one of the hospital’s two intensive care units.

Here she was put into a coma and intubated, and Tommy was told to prepare for the worst.

Elsa and Tommy Larkins whose baby girl was born by C-section while Elsa was in hospital suffering from serious COVID
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Tommy Larkins says his ‘world came crashing down’

“She was really sick. I’d been told to say my last goodbye to my other half – and to my unborn baby as well. Your world comes crashing down,” he said.

These painful, difficult, heart-breaking conversations are happening all the time.

Rene Coles, a 74-year-old grandmother, has spent a week on one of Kingston Hospital’s high-dependency wards.

She coughs heavily into the oxygen mask strapped to her face before telling me she has been to hell – and she is not sure she is back.

Elsa and her unborn baby were being treated at Kingston Hospital
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Elsa and her unborn baby were being treated at Kingston Hospital

“I thought I was dead,” Rene says. “I’ve never felt like that in my life. For these nurses to get me through it, and the doctors, I cannot believe what they did to me.

“I’m 76 and I have COPD and I still got through – they are marvellous people.”

But at one stage, it was feared Rene might not make it.

“My daughter was asked to come up the hospital to say goodbye to me with my son because I might be dying,” she said.

Elsa, Melissa and Alba Larkins. Elsa's baby girl was born by C-section while Elsa was in hospital suffering from serious COVID. Melissa and Alba were told their mother's life was "on a knife edge".
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Melisa and Alba were told their mother’s life was ‘on a knife edge’

Tommy had the same devastating conversation with the rest of his his family. He broke the news to his young daughters Melisa and Alba.

He told the girls: “Mummy’s on a knife edge. I’m sure she is going to be okay, but she’s on a knife edge. We all need to hope.”

Gags Sekhon, an ICU nurse, was one of the critical care nurses who cared for Elsa.

He said: “Thankfully, we have not seen many pregnant women, but Elsa was particularly sick when she came in.

A nurse takes a video of a newborn baby in the maternity ward at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey to send to the parents as visiting hours are restricted because of COVID-19 outbreak. May 27 2020
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A nurse takes a video of a newborn baby whose parents are unable to see her – one of many similar cases across the UK

“She was struggling to breathe. I think the difficulty with that was because she was heavily pregnant.

“The big bump she had was pushing on her lungs. As COVID had infected her lungs she was finding it difficult to breathe anyway and then with the added pressure of baby squeezing on the bottom of her lungs it was making it even more difficult.

“So she did require quite a lot of support all the time she was here.”

Elsa's baby was delivered by emergency C section - two months early
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Elsa’s baby was delivered by emergency C section – two months early

On 5 January, the decision was taken to deliver Elsa and Tommy’s baby by emergency C section: two months before the baby was due.

The operation could save Elsa’s life, but it carried a huge risk.

Tommy said he was “absolutely petrified” – adding: “The baby was due the second week in March. To have an emergency C-section, and a baby potentially born with COVID – it was awful.

“It was all very dark. A horrible place to be in.”

The operation to deliver the baby was successful.

Tommy was allowed to see his daughter for the first time on Wednesday
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Tommy was allowed to see his daughter for the first time on Wednesday

Elsa and Tommy’s daughter weighs just 1.4kg and needed life support in those first critical few weeks of her birth.

Tommy was allowed to visit his daughter in hospital on compassionate grounds for the first time on Wednesday, but Elsa is still COVID positive and has yet to meet her beautiful, tiny, fragile daughter.

It could be weeks before all three are together.

Tommy said the first few hours were the most difficult: “It was day by day, hour by hour. She had ups and downs.

“She’s tiny and is still tiny. Basically a ventilator the same size as her body attached to her. And seeing her like that is heart-breaking.

“When doctors and clinicians tell you it could be the worse, you could lose everything here, to worry about the kids, to worry about everything, home life, work, everything we had planned, to lose all of that in one fell swoop for everything to be cut short was really difficult.

Elsa and Tommy's daughter weighs just 1.4kg
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Elsa and Tommy’s daughter weighs just 1.4kg

“To come through and to see that light at the tunnel, it was amazing.

“We still have little way to go.

“Hopefully we will keep pushing forward and she’ll keep fighting.”

The pandemic baby who survived against all odds has a name.

She’s called Florence – a tribute to the nurses and doctors who saved her and her mother’s life.

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