Trevor Gallagher, Ciaran Godkin, Thomas Gallagher and Therese Godkin who all contracted Covid-19 but thankfully lived to tell the tale.
THE story of the Gallagher family is a captivating one. Originally from Lismore Park, The Gallaghers – Thomas, Noel, Therese, Robert, Trevor, Nigel and Dermot – are no strangers to adversity. Having lost both their parents at the end of the 80s, the children essentially raised themselves with the core values of love, respect and integrity that their parents had instilled in them. They got on about their lives quietly, and out of the glare of the public eye…until the incredible Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.
The story of the Gallaghers V Covid-19 is one of twists and turns aplenty and begins, of all places, in a Toy Factory. On March 10 of this year, Waterford learned of its first confirmed case of the coronavirus – an employee from the toy manufacturers, Cartamundi. Over the course of the next 14 days, at least three more employees of the company would be confirmed positive, including 45 year old Trevor Gallagher.
Trevor developed flu like symptoms on Friday, March 13 and his GP urged him to self-isolate. He took himself to bed and for the next five days, under the watchful eye of his housemate and brother Nigel, his condition worsened. When his sister Therese, worried about his condition visited him on Wednesday, March 18 the oxygen levels in his blood were dangerously low and Trevor was struggling to breathe. Caredoc couldn’t come to his home, and it wasn’t until the next day that Nigel managed to get him to the doctors where an ambulance was called. He was bought into the Emergency Department and immediately tested for the virus. Less than 12 hours later he was on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) fighting for his life.
Meanwhile, at his home in Booterstown, Trevor’s brother Thomas was beginning to feel seriously unwell. He said that he “never felt anything like it”.
“In the middle of the night, on Monday March 16 I started to get aches and pains,” Thomas said. “I attempted to ring my GP but it was near impossible to get through. The whole city was in a panic about the coronavirus so I’m assuming everyone was ringing up with symptoms. I finally got through and was told to self-isolate. A few days later, when Trevor was brought into the ICU, I rang the doctor back and told him that this was getting a lot more serious.”
Trevor and Tom both ended up in the Intensive Care Unit at UHW – at the same time.
Trevor and Thomas had not been in contact with each other since March 5, the night of Thomas’s daughter’s 21st birthday, which took place before covid-19 arrived in Waterford. Approximately 4-5 days later, the virus found Trevor in Cartamundi but as he hadn’t laid eyes or hands on Thomas, there was uncertainty about how he contracted it.
“Therese had visited Trevor, albeit briefly and then visited our house on March 11,” Thomas said. “She was here for no more than an hour but that’s more than likely how I picked it up.”
Thomas told his GP that Trevor was on a ventilator and that he strongly suspected that he could have the virus too. He was promised a test, but it never materialised. Almost incredibly, none of Thomas’s immediate family were tested either. On Sunday morning, with his brother still on a ventilator in UHW – Thomas woke in a sweat, feeling horrendous and knew he needed to ring an ambulance.
“I told them about Trevor and could tell that the woman on the phone was taken aback – she was suddenly in the middle of an unfolding covid-19 story,” Thomas said. “Up to that point, it had just been something we were watching on TV. The ambulance came straight away and when the paramedics arrived they asked me if I had a fever or aches and pains. I said no only for my daughter Ellen to correct me. I did of course but I was so delirious that I didn’t know what I was saying.”
Thomas was brought into an isolation room of the Emergency Department of UHW where he was met, ironically, by the same doctor who had met his brother a week earlier.
Thomas Gallagher, with Dr Wahid Altaf ICU consultant at UHW.
“When she saw the name Gallagher, they immediately knew what they were dealing with,” Trevor said. “Covid-19 had arrived at UHW in the most dramatic of ways.”
Thomas was moved to the Cedar Ward of the Dunmore Wing, which, as has been well documented since, had become the base for all Covid-19 treatment in Waterford.
That Sunday night, he received the result of a swab that confirmed what he already knew – he was covid-19 positive. The following morning, he was on a ventilator fighting for his life, incredibly, right next-door to his brother who was doing the same.
Downstairs, Thomas’s sister Therese and her husband Ciaran Godkin had just arrived at the Emergency Department, armed with flu symptoms and the knowledge that two other members of their family were currently being suffocated by the virus. If the name Therese Godkin didn’t set off alarm bells, the mention of her maiden name did the trick. Based on her symptoms and the fact that her two brothers were already at the hospital, Therese was brought to the Dunmore Wing to commence a two week isolation. There was a real fear that she could deteriorate in the same way that her brothers did so was isolated under strict observation. Thankfully, even though they both received positive test results, Therese and her husband never became as ill as the Gallagher brothers.
Meanwhile, in the Dunmore Wing, Trevor was beginning to take the upper hand in his fight against the virus. He was coming off a ventilator but still had no idea that his brother and sister were sick too, with Thomas gravely so.
“They told Trevor, when they took him off the ventilator, that I was there too. They left the curtains pulled so he could see me, not sure if it was going to be for the last time,” Thomas said. “I think it’s important for people to know what Covid-19 can do to your body. It attacks the lungs, making it impossible for it to transfer oxygen throughout the body. There were times when I was on 100% oxygen. If I took the mask away from my mouth, I was instantly suffocating, as if immersed in a pool of water. It was terrifying.”
While Thomas was in the ICU, the doctors used a technique on him called ‘proning’, which had proved effective in other countries. It involved Thomas laying on his stomach for between 12 and 16 hours a day to help him to get more oxygen into his blood. The human body has more lung tissue in the back of the body than in the front and when Thomas was proning, gravity helped the coronavirus secretions move downward, so more of his ‘good’ lung was on top and therefore less affected.
When Thomas came off the ventilator he was 11kg lighter due to the fact that he had been sedated for almost his entire time in the ICU and much of his muscle mass had deteriorated. He still believed he was about to take his first step on a road to recovery though. Unfortunately, the virus was already preparing for round two and Thomas didn’t have even half as strong a body as he had for round one.
“I was feeling better but by the end of the week I could tell that I wasn’t recovering like Trevor was,” Thomas said. “It felt like I had just got out of the ring with Muhammad Ali, and now Mike Tyson was waiting for me.”
Waterford News & Star reporter Darren Skelton chatting with Thomas Gallagher at his home in Booterstown.
On Sunday, April 19, Thomas’s health rapidly deteriorated and his breathing became difficult. Put on a ventilator again, the doctors suddenly had a disturbing predicament.
“I had been tested twice before Easter Sunday for Covid-19 and each time the tests came back negative,” Thomas said. “But they did another test after Easter and that was positive so they didn’t know whether I had the coronavirus or some kind of pneumonia.”
There were two different treatments open to Thomas’s medical team but it was vital that they chose the right one because treating him for pneumonia while he had Covid-19 could have killed him, and vice versa.
“They did a deep swab into my lungs to decide on what action to take next,” Thomas said. “For that day, it felt like I was the only patient in the hospital because I had the full attention of the whole medical team – consultants, anaesthetists, ICU I…we were all in the fight together but they saved my life that day.”
Dr Wahid Altaf ICU consultant at UHW said that Thomas was very close to death but showed “huge heart and determination when it mattered most”.
“Thomas was probably the sickest man I’ve ever seen, who went on to survive’, Dr Altaf said.
It transpired that Thomas had a fungal pneumonia and the treatment decisions made that day, gave Thomas a 50/50 chance of survival. His body – 11kg less than before he was ventilated – had to fight like it never had before.
“One of the ICU nurses told me afterwards that I had given them the hardest four hours imaginable that Sunday night,” Thomas said. “I was about to die and I knew absolutely nothing about it. It’s an amazing feeling when a doctor tells you all that you went through, knowing that hearing the story again, meant that you survived it.”
For the entire 66 days that Thomas (who was born in 1966) was in UHW he only ever saw the eyes of his medical helpers and was never allowed visitors. The only time he got to see his wife and children was an emotional moment between two bouts in the ICU, through a second floor hospital window.
“I could only see their eyes through their PPE, but I got to know each and every member of the UHW team by name,” Thomas said. “I can’t speak highly enough of what the team in UHW did for me. I just don’t have the words. Each and every one of them treated me with so much kindness, compassion and skill. They saved my life and it’s important that the people of Waterford know just how good they are and how amazing University Hospital Waterford is.”
There’s every chance that while the medical teams at UHW saved the Gallagher Brothers, they did their part by saving dozens, possibly hundreds of Waterford lives as well.
“They hadn’t encountered covid-19 before we arrived and we showed them exactly what the virus could do, and how they needed to treat it,” Thomas said. “We were their baptism of fire.”
After over another month of recovery, recuperation and rehabilitation, Thomas was told, on Tuesday May 19 – exactly a month after he won the hardest fight of his life, that he could go home.
“I’ll never forget that feeling of leaving UHW, with all the people who had cared for me, and saved my life, clapping and genuinely looking happy and relieved to see me better,” Thomas said. “When we went home, I can’t put into words how it felt to be hugged by my family and to see all those familiar faces again. It’s hard to properly comprehend how close I was to never seeing them all again. I need people to try and understand that, so that they’ll take the coronavirus seriously, because it’s just that, deadly serious.”
Despite feeling like they have gone through 12 rounds each with Ali and Tyson, Trevor and Thomas Gallagher are slowly but surely recovering from a virus that almost killed them. The virus that has turned all of our lives upside down. What they went through – two months of physical and emotional torture – is the reason why we are being asked to stay at home. Thomas is one of the warmest and friendliest people you could meet and when asked for his last words on the matter, they won’t come as a surprise to those that know him best.
“It bet us and it battered us and it almost took our lives away…” Thomas said. “But we won’t look back in anger.”
Below: Thomas being welcomed home by his relieved wife Aileen.