We got in touch with Amy in April to thank her for setting up a very successful Facebook birthday fundraiser, little did we know the ordeal Amy had been through this year. Amy said: “I set the target at £150, and my friends had achieved that in four hours! I think people were aware that it was very touch and go for me for a while and they just wanted to show how grateful they were.”

Amy's Covid-19 story

On 18 January Amy tested positive for Covid-19. She self-isolated, away from her husband and stepdaughter and waited for recovery.However, as the days went on, Amy knew something didn’t feel right. Breathing got more difficult, she was coughing non-stop, and she was so hot. Paramedics came to check her out and took her into Milton Keynes Hospital. A day later Amy’s Covid symptoms got dramatically worse.

“It felt like I was using all of my energy to get enough breath. It felt like I was in this bubble with not enough oxygen and no matter how much energy I put in I just couldn’t breathe.  After a while I didn’t want to eat and drink because breathing was my priority. It was at this point where my memory starts to fade, my focus was to stay alive.”

Amy was put onto a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that forced air into her lungs, which helped for a while. The CPAP took the pressure off Amy having to do all the work to get air in. The staff at Milton Keynes tried everything to support Amy, laying her on her front and ventilating her, but she was so poorly she needed additional support. The only option left was ECMO.

On the 31 January, the ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) team from Royal Brompton travelled up to Milton Keynes to assess Amy’s suitability for ECMO treatment and to retrieve her for care in Royal Brompton’s ECMO unit. Amy has no real recollection of her time at Royal Brompton; however, she recalls having very vivid dreams.

Amy's time on ECMO

“I had lots of dreams,” Amy said. “Some were quite harrowing. Some pleasant. Some of the doctors who were there when I was intubated at Milton Keynes were in my dreams all the way through. I would often dream about the nurse who held my hand while I was intubated, and I recognised her when I had woken up again.”

Events that took place while Amy was asleep formed part of her dreams. Amy felt like she had some awareness of what had been happening around her. In her dreams she had three tests to pass to survive and with each test she felt a jolt. Amy later learned at one point she had gone into cardiac arrest and it had taken three attempts to start her heart beating again.

“There was a time when my mum FaceTimed me. They had reduced my sedation a little but not enough to remember it. But in my dreams, I spoke to my mum and squeezed her hand. I was told by the nurses I did open my eyes and squeeze the nurse’s hand. It’s strange not knowing exactly what happened to me but my dreams felt really real. It was only upon being told what had happened to me on waking that the dreams started to make sense.”

Amy’s husband praised the staff at Royal Brompton. “They updated us every day, but the ECMO went on for almost four weeks and there never seemed to be any good news. It all feels like a bad dream now.”

Becoming Covid-19 free

Thankfully things started to turn around for Amy and on Friday 19th of February she tested negative for Covid-19. Her lungs started to function again and after three or four days she started to make a rapid recovery. The support that ECMO gave her was reduced little by little.

“Amy got the all clear on Friday. They told me she was going to be put on an intensive course of steroids for three days which would take around seven days to take effect. On Monday they turned the ECMO down by two percent, by Tuesday morning 25% and by that evening they turned it off completely” Amy’s husband said.

A week later, Amy was back in Milton Keynes and on March 2nd she woke up again. “They all called me their little miracle there. The staff had all seen me get really poorly and then wake up on the other side. I felt like a celebrity because they all knew who I was. Everyone was coming to see me. My voice took a while to come back as I’d had tubes in place for so long, but once it did come back, they couldn’t stop me talking!”

Recovery was slow and frustrating for Amy. “My goal was to get home for my birthday on the 1st April. One day some of the staff helped me to stand and I just cried. It’s something we just all take for granted and I couldn’t believe it was so hard. The last thing I remembered was walking around without even thinking about it. I was so desperate to get home and give my husband and step-daughter a cuddle; that’s all I wanted.”

Every moment she felt she had enough energy; Amy took on some physio work and worked on building up her strength and she exceeded expectations by getting discharged and back home three weeks before her birthday.

“I can't put into words how grateful I am. The staff at Royal Brompton have given me my life back and there's nothing I can ever do to express what that means to us. I genuinely didn't think I was going to survive. I just feel so honoured that I was given the opportunity to be treated by the most specialist people in the world at the most specialist hospital in the world. There's nothing I will ever be able to say or do to show how grateful I am and I know my family and my friends feel the same.”

ECMO is the last hope for patients in the fight against COVID-19, when other forms of ventilation have proven to be unsuccessful. It works by doing the job of the lungs – removing carbon dioxide from the blood and adding oxygen – outside of the body, allowing the lungs time to rest and recover while other treatments are applied.

These machines will not only support the treatment of Covid-19 patients, but will also support the sickest patients with lung disease into the future. A donation to our Covid-19 Relief Fund will help us to send more people, like Amy, back home to their families.

Donate to the Covid-19 Relief Fund