A woman from Bristol who watched on FaceTime as her dad died with coronavirus has said nothing is worse than people denying it exists or not following lockdown rules.
Philippa Carey's dad, 64-year-old Steve Gay, died in May 2020 after a five-week stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Southmead Hospital.
Now his daughter has spoken out about the trauma of losing her beloved parent and what it is like to see people downplaying the severity of the health crisis.
Steve, who was a business owner and much-loved member of his community in Hanham, contracted Covid-19 at the same time as his wife Eve at the start of the pandemic in March.
By the time Boris Johnson had introduced the first national lockdown, it was too late for the couple who had already been exposed to the virus.
Just days before Steve contracted Covid-19, his daughter said he was "the life and soul" of his grandson's 18th birthday party.
“It was the Wednesday after that birthday party that both my dad and my step-mum got ill,” said Philippa. “None of the rest of us got ill, so one of them must’ve picked it up after the party. They did the self-isolation thing for 14 days and my step-mum got better, but my dad didn’t.
“He was talking to the doctors on the phone, and I think they got him some antibiotics, but I think as well, he kept quiet about how unwell he was.
“It was a Sunday morning when he was on the phone to me saying he’d slept a bit better, and I was thinking he had started to recover, but he hadn’t.
“He went upstairs to have a shave and it was then he said to my step-mum that he thought he might need some help. He had been at home ill for 18 days, and they came and took him to hospital in an ambulance.
“That was the last time my step-mum saw him in person until he died. At hospital, they put him into an induced coma to put him on a ventilator that night, within hours of him arriving. He was able to text to say what was happening, and that was the last we heard from him,” she said.
Now Steve's family has hit back at so-called Covid-deniers and others who speculate about the severity of the condition.
Philippa insisted her dad was a healthy man with no underlying health conditions.
“He was on a ventilator for five weeks. About halfway through, they told us he’d had the worst strain of it, the worst case of it they’d seen. At that time, in early April, the doctors didn’t really know exactly what Covid-19 was, but they were throwing everything at it.
“They showed us scans of his lungs, and they showed significant damage, which they said was irreparable. He had just turned 64. He never smoked - hated smoking, in fact - and he was a healthy, fit man with no other health issues.
“To see it could do that to someone’s lungs was shocking,” said Philippa.
Philippa is full of praise for the doctors and nurses who helped take care of her dad while he was in intensive care.
Towards the end of his life she describes the phone calls as being "unbearable", as doctors had to deliver the news there was little they could do to make her dad recover.
“We had to make the decision to turn off his life support, it was horrendous,” said Philippa.
Steve's wife was able to go and sit with her husband as his machines were turned off, but the rest of the family, including Philippa, had to stay outside.
Eve FaceTimed Steve's children as she went to see her husband for the last time.
“They thought he might last for a few hours, but he passed away within 20 minutes,” Philippa said.
Steve died on 12 May, almost eight weeks after he fell ill with coronavirus.
Describing her dad, Philippa said: "He was the life and soul of the party, he loved to have a dance, we would love to be able to give him the send off he deserves, and we still will.
"He loved going out, socialising, he loved his football, he supported Bristol Rovers, he loved playing on his Playstation and he loved spending time with his family".
While dealing with the grief of losing the 64-year-old, Steve's family has been raising money for more ventilators at Southmead - and have risen more than £5,000.
“We were so overwhelmed with how much they look after people, how hard they fought for him,” said Philippa.
“So we thought what better thing to do than to try and buy a ventilator in my dad’s memory,” she added.
Eight months on from losing the figure at the centre of the family, Philippa told Bristol Live that things are still incredibly difficult.
“We’re still living with this, it’s just horrendous. It’s just every time you turn on the news, every time you go on Facebook or something, it’s still with us,” she said.
While grieving the loss of a loved one is difficult enough, Philippa added that so-called Covid-deniers make it even harder to cope.
“The amount of people you see on social media who reckon it’s all a conspiracy about vaccines, or who say the figures are wrong and those people would have died anyway - it just makes my blood boil,” said Philippa.
“Unless you’ve been touched by this, then you might not know, but don’t pretend to be an expert all of a sudden.
“I even had somebody ask me if they’d performed an autopsy on my dad, as if to question whether it was really Covid that killed him, or something else. Can you imagine? I thought of those five weeks and seeing the scans of his lungs and thinking ‘well if it wasn’t coronavirus that did that to him, I’d like to know what it was’. It’s just ridiculous.
“I see the posts on Facebook where people are questioning it, doubting the numbers and thinking they know better. I used to respond, and comment on some stuff, but in the end, I’d be rowing with people all the time.
"I had to stop, it’s not good for my mental health, so I don’t say anything now. I just hope they don’t experience it for themselves like we have.
“The thing that is most frustrating is that the longer people deny it, the more it will spread and the longer we’ll have to be in these restrictions.
“I just think a lot of them haven’t experienced it - if they’d lost a family member, they would know,” she added.
Philippa works for Sirona Care and health in Bristol and is helping organise vaccinations for members of staff.
She said she has already had her first dose. "I had my first vaccine last Friday, and I did that for my dad," she said.