Unvaccinated father-of-four home in time for Christmas after four-month Covid battle

Peter Rigacs is clapped out of the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.
Copyright: Royal Papworth Hospital.
Peter Rigacs is clapped out of the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. Credit: Royal Papworth Hospital

A father-of-four who spent more than four months fighting coronavirus has been discharged from hospital in time for Christmas.

Unvaccinated Peter Rigacs, 46, was admitted to hospital at the start of August before his condition declined further and he was sent for specialist treatment.

He was transferred to the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge - which says that more than 80% of the patients it has treated for Covid-19 since February have been unvaccinated.

The critically ill father and grandfather from Norwich was put on an artificial lung machine at the Royal Papworth Hospital.

While receiving that treatment, he began to bleed inside his chest. He needed countless blood transfusions and was operated on several times, including emergency thoracic surgery operations to remove blood and clots.

In total, he spent 83 days on the artificial lung, underwent a dozen trips to the operating theatre and spent 97 days in critical care, before being moved to a general surgery ward in mid-November.

Peter Rigacs with his wife Andrea (second from left), and his son, daughter and grandson. Credit: Royal Papworth Hospital

Since then he has recovered faster than his doctors expected and can now walk unaided. Last week, he was discharged to his home in Norwich.

He said: "I just want to say a huge thank you to all the doctors, nurses, surgeons, physios and everyone who has kept me alive.

"I have seen how hard they worked and how they fought to save me and I will be forever grateful,” he said.

“I have missed my family so much and am so excited to be home in time for Christmas. It has been a long time away from them."

Consultant thoracic surgeon Aman Coonar, who operated on Mr Rigacs several times, praised his team, and added: "It is almost a miracle that this man who many times we thought would die is now walking around and breathing without additional oxygen requirements.”

Mr Rigacs’ wife Andrea said his family had been longing for him to come home. 

"It was very scary when Peter was so unwell. It has been very hard on all of the family. It meant a lot to be able to visit him and give him strength.”

During his time in hospital, Mr Rigacs was cared for by hundreds of members of staff. 

An ECMO machine at Royal Papworth Hospital Credit: Royal Papworth Hospital

The machine he was dependent upon is known as an ECMO - standing for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

Jo-anne Fowles, nurse consultant for ECMO and critical care, said his circumstances were extremely unusual but the team were pleased with Mr Rigacs' recovery.

"Before Covid-19, having a patient on ECMO for nearly three months was unthinkable," she said.

“For context, the average length of time for our patients supported on ECMO before the pandemic was about 14 days.

"We have had a number of patients be supported on ECMO for a considerable amount of time like Peter and it is always so rewarding when we have such positive outcomes."