Tragic faces of loved ones killed by Covid as UK reaches grim 100,000 deaths milestone

When Jim Russell got a “wee sniffle” on March 21, just days before the first lockdown, it didn’t cause him or his fiancee Connie McCreary much concern. The 51-year-old Glaswegian HGV driver was fit and healthy and hardly ever got ill, and brushed off feeling a little under the weather. But six days later, he was suddenly hit with a fever and sweats.

Connie, 46, who was due to marry him in the summer, said: “He was sleeping all day long, with covers over him even though the house was roasting. I’d never seen like that.” A week after first getting symptoms, Connie took him to hospital, but he was sent home with antibiotics.

But after a few days he hadn’t got any better, and when she found him on the stairs struggling to breathe in the early hours one morning she rushed him back to A&E. Jim was put on oxygen, and early that morning put on a ventilator. Have you lost a loved one to Covid?


Jim Russell and fiancee Connie McCreary dreamed of living in Spain

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Connie, a student funding assistant, recalls: “I spoke to him just before he was intubated. He didn’t really say much because he was struggling. He was terrified.

I just told him to fight it and pull through. That was the last time I spoke to him.” Jim was later transferred to a specialist unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where staff tried to save him for 28 days before his life support was finally turned off on May 4.

Connie says: “They told me there was nothing else they could do for him, because it had just destroyed his lungs. “I said I wanted to be with him, so my sister drove me the two and half hours from Glasgow to Aberdeen to get there. It was the worst journey of my life.

“I was with him when he passed away. They said I’d have another hour with him as he died, that I’d have time with him after the machines were turned off, but he died instantly. My 17-year-old daughter and I were both holding his hands.

“Jim was so young. The staff just couldn’t believe what had happened to him. I just don’t understand, why him?

He was healthy, he had no underlying health issues, I’d never seen him unwell in the six years I knew him.” Connie and Jim were due to get married in July, and had planned to one day live together in Spain. “The last year has been horrendous, a never-ending nightmare.

We couldn’t have a proper funeral, and I haven’t had any cuddles from my family and friends, the things that normally happen when somebody dies. “Every day I relive the nightmare. I can’t grieve properly because it’s in your face 24/7.

We were going to start a business and move abroad. We had our whole lives ahead of us, and it’s all been taken away.” Connie said she has found support in her grief through the Covid19 Families UK Facebook group, an online community of people who have lost loved ones to the virus.

She says: “The group has been a saviour for us all. Just being able to chat to people who are going through the same pain.” Raphael Parkinson from Liverpool and was just 62 when he died of Covid-19 in October last year.

His partner of eight years, Laura Watts, is devastated by his loss and at the thought of 100,000 deaths. “The toll is making me feel worse,” she says. “From the very beginning, the lack of PPE for staff, everything.

I am struggling to think about the number of people who’ve died. This government has been incompetent the whole way through in handling the pandemic. It has devastated me.

Tragic faces of loved ones killed by Covid as UK reaches grim 100,000 deaths milestoneLaura Watts is devastated by the loss of her partner Raphael Parkinson

“Raphael was a loving partner, we had great fun together and had a future planned.”

Raphael, a Unison officer, was a senior activist and a leading member of the regional black members’ group, as well as being an anti-racist and socialist campaigner in his local community. He spent 10 days at the Royal Liverpool Hospital before he died on October 6. Laura recalls: “I went to pick him up to take him to do a covid test but he didn’t look well at all so I took him straight to the hospital.

That was the last time I saw him when I took him to A&E.” Before his condition deteriorated, he was exchanging texts with Laura and trying to keep his spirits up in hospital. The 53-year-old says: “When he was in hospital he was texting me and I knew he was playing it down.

He was asking me if I was still going running and things like that. “In one message he said ‘Thanks for what you’ve done for me’ and I said ‘Of course, I love you and I know you’d be supporting me’ – then I said ‘Don’t get soft on me!’ I miss him. We would bicker!”

The couple had so much to look forward to later this year when Raphael retired. Laura added: “Before he got ill we had been to Wales that weekend with two friends. He planned to retire in September and we were going to go the West Indies to watch the cricket.

We were always together.” Dean Mason was just 51 years old when he passed away from Covid in April last year, leaving behind his wife and two young sons. His devastated sister Debbie White says the fact that so many more people have lost their lives since Dean means the government has learned nothing from people like him having their lives so cruelly cut short.

Debbie, from Hertfordshire, says: “I feel angry. We feel let down. “The government should have locked us down earlier, it may or may not have saved Dean but it would have saved others.

I know that there are tens of thousands of other families going through what we went through and that is just heartbreaking.”

Tragic faces of loved ones killed by Covid as UK reaches grim 100,000 deaths milestoneDean Mason leaves behind a wife and two young sons

Financial advisor Dean, from Hertforeshire, became ill on 22 March, but a week later his condition deteriorated and he was admitted to hospital where he was told he had a 50/50 chance of survival. Debbie says: “He rang me from hospital and his voice started to break as he told me he was going to fight this.” Eventually he was put into an induced coma and on a ventilator, but his organs started to fail and he passed away leaving wife Sue and sons William, 14, and 11-year-old Oliver.

Debbie says: “Dean was wonderful, my baby brother. He was just a lovely, kind, arm family man. All his friends are not ashamed to say how much they loved him and they have all clubbed together to buy a star named after him.

“My mum who is 87 is heartbroken. We could only have ten of us at the funeral, and even now all this time later we haven’t been able to hug properly or have a proper celebration of his life. “Anyone can read the statistics, but when you read the stories of the real people who have died and their families that have been left behind it brings it home how serious this is.”

Amanda Provis is heartbroken over the death of her mother Christine Durbin, who died from Covid during the first wave. The civil servant from Ton Pentre, South Wales, says 61-year-old Christine died at home after doctors didn’t think she needed to go to hospital at the time. The mum-of-two says: “She became ill five days before she passed away, her chest was bad, she couldn’t breathe.

“She spoke back and forth on the phone to the doctor and they said it was highly likely she had it but she was managing at home and they didn’t feel a need for her to go into hospital.

Tragic faces of loved ones killed by Covid as UK reaches grim 100,000 deaths milestoneGrandma-of-four Christine, pictured with daughter Amanda, “worshipped” her grandchildren

“Then on the April 7 my father had got out of bed and left my mum there sleeping – he thought she was sleeping. When he went to wake her she had already passed.” Amanda, 42, was devastated she couldn’t comfort her dad after Christine’s death and the whole family has been shaken by the loss.

Through tears, she says: “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to be with Dad but he said, ‘No, I need you to stay away, I don’t want you to have this’. We could only have 10 at the funeral including the vicar.

It was horrendous.” Grandma-of-four Christine “worshipped” her grandchildren and would look after them every school holiday. Amanda says: “Mum was so so kind, she’d give her last penny to anyone.

She was so loving, one of the nicest people you’d ever meet.” Like many bereaved Covid families, Amanda is angry the death toll has hit 100,000. “It’s horrendous, it should never have got to that,” she says. “They’re saying lock down borders, why didn’t they do that at the beginning, we may have had fewer deaths if they had.

I feel so angry.” Former fire officer Ray Bailey has left a hole in the hearts of his family and the community. The larger-than-life 68-year-old from Ramsbottom, Lancs, died two weeks ago on January 15 after being hospitalised 10 days earlier.

Daughter Victoria Bailey, 44, says: “We’re all in shock, it happened so quickly. I hope his story helps to highlight how serious this is. We can’t thank the ICU staff at Salford Royal enough, they’re the true heroes.”

Tragic faces of loved ones killed by Covid as UK reaches grim 100,000 deaths milestoneFormer firefighter Ray Bailey was also a popular singer in a soul band

Ray was very careful with the restrictions and mostly stayed inside.

“When he did go out it was pottering in the garden and going out with his camera at the fields at the back to take pictures of the birds and stags,” Victoria says. Kind-hearted Ray, who in his spare time was the lead singer of a soul band, met the Queen during his fire service and retired in 2007. Victoria says: “I’m an only child and all I keep hearing from everybody is how much of a father figure he was to so many people.

He did so much for everybody, the family is all so proud of him.” They are devastated they can’t give Ray the send off he deserves but hope one day when it’s allowed they can throw him a festival. “My dad was that well known there probably would be hundreds of people if everybody came,” she laughs.

“But when we’re allowed we want to honour him with a festival. We’ll play him singing, have music and hopefully raise money for charity. “He always said when he died he wanted a gospel choir so we’ll make it happen.”

Ray also leaves behind his wife Angela, who he has been with for 50 years, and his sister Rosemary. The virus also claimed the life of Paul Hilditch two days after Christmas. The 55-year-old touched many people’s lives with his passion for life and learning, but none more so than his family.

His children, Emily, Camille and Adam, and mum Diana say all teachers to be protected to avoid further tragic loss of life. Paul lived in Heighington Village, Co Durham, and was working at Conyers School in Yarm, N Yorks., for four years at the time of his death. He grew up in Willaston Village on The Wirral and lived there for 22 years before heading north to teach.

His heartbroken mum, Diana Hilditch, 80, said: “It is quite awful that a mum outlives her son. “It is every parent’s worst nightmare. If this vaccine could have been offered to him then he would still be here today.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first approved in the UK, was used for the first time on Dec 8. Paul fell ill two weeks before his death on Dec 27.

Tragic faces of loved ones killed by Covid as UK reaches grim 100,000 deaths milestoneTeacher Paul was described as “a truly dedicated, caring and well-loved member of staff”

Diana is also mum to John, 43, and James, 46, a teacher who is about to be given the vaccine. Paul’s daughter Camille, 24, also believes teachers should be on the Covid vaccine priority list.

She said: “If they’re going to send them into schools, they need to be vaccinated. “I personally think they shouldn’t be back until they’ve been vaccinated.” The family are still in “complete shock” and say their dad’s death has left a “heartbreaking gap in their lives”.

With no underlying health conditions, Paul had been a fit and healthy man who loved walking and the outdoors. He taught engineering and technology. Headteacher of Conyers, Louise Spellman, said they were “deeply saddened” at the sudden loss of their colleague and friend.

Ms Spellman described him as “a truly dedicated, caring and well-loved member of staff”. PC Abbas Uddin died last Thursday after testing positive for Covid-19. The 40-year-old Greater Manchester Police officer, who worked for the force during the Manchester Arena bombing, leaves behind his wife and two young children.

His colleagues described him as “the greatest brother in and out of work” and “such a lovely man who was never seen without a smile on his face.”

Tragic faces of loved ones killed by Covid as UK reaches grim 100,000 deaths milestonePC Abbas Uddin who worked for Greater Manchester Police during the Manchester Arena bombing

Inspector Abid Sardar, Co-Chair of the GMP Muslim Police Association, paid tribute to his friend. He said: “I first met Abbas when he was transferring to GMP from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Abbas became a friend immediately and we have maintained regular contact ever since.

“I have spent time with Abbas both in a professional and personal capacity; I would describe him as a committed police officer, true friend and family man. “Abbas will be greatly missed by everyone that knew him.” Chief Inspector Neil Cook, of GMP’s Trafford division, said: “Abbas had been away from frontline duties during the pandemic to look after his health but was continuing to work from home and was looking forward to returning and getting back onto the streets to continue serving the community when it was safe to do so.

“Our thoughts are with Abbas’ wife and two young children who are understandably devastated by his loss and we are giving them all the support that we can at this time.

“To see the shock and sadness of colleagues is an awful but pertinent reminder of the dangers of this terrible virus, and we remain committed to doing all that we can to protect the public and limit the number of people affected by such dreadful consequences.”

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