John Firkins, 57 and from Crawley, had been admitted to at East Surrey Hospital suffering from shortness of breath, a rapid heartbeat and clamminess. On 8 February, John was blue lighted to Harefield Hospital, suffering from heart, lung and liver failure. His condition was grave when he arrived, but fortunately he was in good hands and stuff rushed to stabilise him.

John spent eight weeks in Harefield ITU, three of them in a coma. He was treated with two weeks of ECMO and on 17 February he was given an LVAD. Harefield helped him through his long recovery, transferring him to Rowan Ward where he spent two months.

When John regained consciousness in the middle of March, he had a lot to adjust to. “I was still very numb and still very shocked, I suppose,” John said. “It didn’t really sink in, and it still hasn’t sunk in, that I had an LVAD. I just can’t believe that I have got to that situation.”

There were severe lasting physical effects of being critically ill that staff at Harefield Hospital helped John with. He had lost a lot of leg muscle, whilst he was in a coma. “I remember the first day the physio came around, to get me out of bed and into a Zimmer frame, and I couldn’t lift my feet off the floor.”

John explained that the physio worked with him twice a day, getting him up and moving so that he could get his strength back. “Just getting out of bed was a task. I still had wires coming out of my neck and wires in my arms. So, it was a long haul for me.”

John was full of praise for the staff at Harefield Hospital. Both in ITU and the two months he spent on Rowan Ward. He said:

The staff were fantastic. I cannot fault the staff at all. Even down to the cleaners. They were so helpful. So considerate. Always smiling. Nothing was too much trouble for them. They would work 12 hour shifts, and longer sometimes, and still there’s nothing that was too much trouble for them. They’re my angels.

John remembers a few specific members of staff who helped him. “Caroline, who was a sister on Rowan Ward, really helped me. She would come by every day, when she was on shift, and just sit and talk for 15-20 minutes, which is what I wanted, it was nice. She really helped me with my mental state.” John wanted to thank all the staff at Harefield who treated him. “They work tirelessly and they’re my heroes. Without them, I wouldn't be here.”

As well as his physical recovery, John had psychological side effects from being critically ill.

“The nightmares were vivid. They were me being on the operating table. Me being in a coma. It scared the hell out of me,” John said.

John suffered from depression after he left the hospital. “It was the middle of May when I got home, and the nightmares started. I was trying to adjust to life and I was getting nightmares every night. I was getting away with two or three hours sleep every night,” he said. “I would lie awake at night, shaking, crying, screaming, because of the dreams I had had. I was too scared to go back to sleep, so I just lay there awake. It destroyed me.”

John’s mental health deteriorated to the point that he attempted suicide. Harefield Hospital provide assistance to John via a psychiatrists called Justin and a councillor named Melissa, who are helping him with the nightmares. “Now I get one or two dreams a week, whereas before it was every night. I’m learning to control my dreams,” John said.

The dreams tell you what you've been through when you're asleep, because your brain was awake all the time. It just reminds you of what you've gone through. Now I can understand why I am having those dreams.

John visits Harefield once a week for cardiac rehab and to have his dressing changed. While he is there, he has a check-up and meets with other LVAD patients. “I’m learning from them,” John said.

John also makes a cake every week for the staff who treated him. “They know me as cake man,” he said. His cakes include rocky road and brownies. “That’s my way of paying back,” John said, and then added: “You can’t put a price on life, can you?”

The dedicated staff at Harefield Hospital saved John’s life, but healing a patient’s body is only part of the process of getting well. For John there were psychological effects of being critically ill that he needed help with.

Fortunately, Harefield Hospital is providing John with the psychological assistance he needs. Right now, our Road to Recovery appeal is raising funds to provide mental health aid to patients who have been critically ill. Help us help patients, like John, who need a hand on their journey to recovery.

Donate to the Road to Recovery appeal