Leeds man is one of UK's longest Covid patients in intensive care after being admitted around same time as Kate Garraway's husband Derek Draper

The wife of a Leeds man who is thought to be one of the UK's longest-fighting Covid patients - having been in hospital since March - says his battle for survival so far has been “nothing short of miraculous”.

By Joanna Wardill
Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 6:00 am

In an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post, Sue Kelk, 63, has paid tribute to husband Jason’s strong will and strength of character as he continues to fight the effects of the virus which has ravaged his body and confined him to intensive care for nine months, hooked up to a ventilator.

Doctors have told Sue that Jason, 49, is one of only six or seven patients in the UK who are in the same position.

His hospital admission, on March 31, was around the same time as that of Derek Draper - the husband of TV presenter Kate Garraway - who was revealed in national newspapers earlier this year to be the country’s longest-fighting Covid patient.

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Sue Kelk whose husband Jason has been in intensive care in Leeds with Covid-19 since March. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

On that day in March, Sue watched as paramedics took her husband Jason, 49, to hospital from their home in Seacroft where he had begun to struggle for breath after a couple of chest infections - never imagining he would still be there now.

But once at St James’, Jason swabbed positive for Covid-19 and as his condition began to deteriorate he was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) on April 3 where he has remained ever since.

Sue said: “It’s nothing short of miraculous that Jason is still here. It just shows his strength of character and his will to live and his will to come home to me and his family.”

Jason, who works in IT at a local primary school, had certain risk factors for severe Covid-19, as a type two diabetic and with mild asthma, but when he fell ill back in March, no-one initially suspected the virus.

Jason Kelk, pictured in intensive care in St James' Hospital, Leeds, where he has been since March.

Sue, a former nurse, said: “He had had a cough for months, with a few chest infections, but on the Saturday I was really worried about him as he got quite breathless. I rang 111 and they thought chest infection so gave him some antibiotics.

“On the Tuesday, I was worried and rang again and they sent an ambulance. The paramedics found his oxygen saturation was lower than they would like and they took him to hospital but said he would probably be sent home soon.

“His cough wasn’t a new cough and he didn’t have a fever, so he didn’t really have any of the symptoms. We didn’t think Covid.

“The Covid swab came back positive on the Wednesday night but I still just thought he’d be coming home.”

Sue and Jason Kelk, pictured on their wedding day in 2017. The couple have been together for 20 years.

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But for Jason, his long fight against the virus had only just begun.

With his oxygen levels dropping dangerously low, he was placed on a ventilator and sedated for the next four weeks, regularly being moved into a ‘prone’ position - onto his front - by medics to increase the oxygen into his lungs.

Sue said the virus has severely damaged his lungs and he still needs the ventilator to breathe, with any attempts to remove it having been short-lived.

“They tried to get him on a mask during the day, so off the ventilator. They did manage 23 hours but he was so tired it had to be abandoned.”

His kidneys have also been seriously affected and he is on a 24/7 kidney filter - something that can only be managed in an ICU, says Sue.

And for a man who previously “loved his food”, Jason is currently being fed intravenously after developing suspected diabetic gasteroparesis - where his stomach nerves don’t function properly - but he is too poorly at the moment for this to be medically investigated.

Sue said: “That fact that he has fought through all of it is absolutely incredible. For someone who really couldn’t have fought his way out of a paper bag, he’s actually fought his way out of 1,000 paper bags. I’m so proud of him.”

Jason has only been outside three times since his admission to hospital - the most recent being on Saturday December 12.

“It was very spontaneous, they had enough staff so they took him out. It was raining and he had his Doctor Who scarf on. If you had seen that man smile. Even though it was cold and wet. It was fantastic.”

When Jason was first admitted, he was able to text Sue but once he was sedated and ventilated, she just had to rely on updates from the busy ward staff.

When lockdown was lifted over the summer, Sue could visit Jason every few days if he was well enough - but then the nation was plunged into a second lockdown in November.

“That was gutting,” said Sue. “Facetime is all very well and it’s a link to your loved one but you can’t touch them. It’s just not the same. Just touching Jason is fantastic and to be able to hold his hand is a tonic.”

They are able to Facetime every few days but due to his tracheostomy - a hole in his neck for the ventilator tube - Jason has been having to mouth words to communicate, although recently he has been well enough to write things down.

Sue says she feels over the last couple of months his condition has seemed more positive, managing lower ventilator pressures and undergoing new physio nearly every day.

“They stand him up, marching on the spot, sit him in his chair. He’s a bit hampered with what he can do [because of the tubes attached to him], but he’s much more able to express his own words and is much brighter than he was; he’s very smiley now which is nicer for the nurses. He’s got his sense of humour back.”

Sue also credits the medical staff starting him in April on dexamethasone, the drug later hailed as ground-breaking for severely-ill Covid-19 patients.

“He had that before it was known about. I think that’s probably really helped him - and the fact he’s so stubborn. I think that’s really kept him going.”

Sue said: “Jason being in ICU for so long is very very rare. They don’t get patients in there for two months or three months, never mind eight, nine months.

“I can’t believe it. I didn’t realise how strong a character Jason is.

“I just wished I had hugged him more. Not just before he went in the ambulance - I hugged him then, but all the way through our relationship. Because now I can’t and that’s really hard.”

For now, she and Jason, who have been together for 20 years and married for three, are trying to focus on the positives and Sue says the ultimate aim is to get him home, even if on a ventilator and with intermittent kidney dialysis.

“Every time he seemed to be improving I would get excited but always at the back of your mind you know he is still really sick. But today I’m a little bit more optimistic. I think coming home could be more of a possibility.

“He doesn’t really talk about it. He’s been scared plenty of times but he doesn’t really dwell on it.

“We have conversations saying when Strictly [Come Dancing] is on next year, we will be able to sit and watch it together.”

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