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Fitness & Health

13th Oct 2020

“I started to wonder would I ever get out of ICU, would I die in there?”

Rob O'Hanrahan

“I am a 23-year-old, who maintained a high level of fitness and I ended up in ICU due to Covid-19.”

A 23 year-old doctor who suffered from severe Post Covid-19 Syndrome, and was admitted to ICU, has urged people to “think twice” about the disease not affecting them.

Dr Owen O’Flynn was speaking at the Department of Health Covid-19 briefing on Monday evening about the potential long-term effects of the Coronavirus and his own dreadful experience weeks after supposedly recovering from the initial infection.

The young doctor contracted the virus in late March, and experienced only a loss of his sense of smell and taste, with no other symptoms. However, a month after having developed the mild symptoms, he began to feel unwell again, including stomach pain, temperature spikes, profuse sweating, constant vomiting and diarrhoea as well as a rash on various parts of his body – notably his hands and feet.

Dr O’Flynn said he began to also suffer cardiac symptoms.

“My heart tracing was showing signs of damage as were my heart enzymes. Two days later, my oxygen levels dropped and a chest x-ray revealed a new lesion,” he said.

He says his condition then “rapidly deteriorated”.

“My oxygen levels reduced and in the space of a minute I was unable to finish a sentence. On the basis of how quickly I was deteriorating I was admitted to ICU,” he explained.

“After analysis of my scans the decision was made to lie me on my front, we occasionally do this for Covid-19 patients who are intubated in ICU to improve lung function. If I didn’t improve I would be put into a coma and incubated. Thankfully that process helped me stabilise for a number of days.”

The young doctor’s heart function, however, fell to a third of normal levels, meaning he then had two major systems failures; an acute respiratory failure and an acute heart failure.

He says he began to fear for his life.

“At that point I started to wonder would I ever get out of ICU, would I die in there? I came to accept that if I did, everything would have been done to prevent that from happening.

“Those two or three days were probably my lowest point. I was in constant contact with my girlfriend and my family but I was also receiving a lot of emotional support from the staff and from my friends.”

However, Owen’s condition thankfully improved in the coming days, and he was discharged home after a further week in a non-ICU bed. He says that he was “by no means fixed” once he returned home, and said that he got breathless just walking around the house.

“It took six weeks from discharge to regain a sense of normality. Again, the entire time I was terrified because I was in the realm of the unknown. I didn’t know how much function I would regain and to this day I still have reduced levels of fitness.”

Dr O’Flynn said that he was sharing his story to show that while Covid-19 may affect certain vulnerable groups in society more seriously than others, “this virus can still have devastating effects on people of any age and there is no real way to tell who will deteriorate and who will get through it without severe symptoms”.

“I am a 23-year-old, who maintained a high level of fitness and I ended up in ICU due to COVID-19. I would urge anyone thinking that they are immune to the more severe effects of this disease to think twice and to follow the public health advice,” he concluded.