Super-fit surgeon who said having Covid-19 ‘felt like drowning’ beat illness with help of trial drug in just three days – The Sun

AN NHS A&E hero doctor has shared her terrifying experience in beating off coronavirus just as she thought it would kill her.

After days of feeling "like she was drowning" Dr Geraldine McGroarty made a rapid recovery from taking part in a new drug trial last month, but is still affected even a month on.

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Dr McGroarty, 30, found herself struggling to breathe in a bed at her own hospital and under the care of her colleagues, wondering if she would survive Covid-19.

She said of the day she was admitted to the Royal Free Hospital in London: "I just felt so awful, so weak and with a fever of 40c [104f] that wasn't being controlled.

"Earlier that day at home, my heart rate had shot up threefold and I'd coughed up what looked like water.

"I'd also had an uncomfortable tight feeling in my chest. I wanted to take deep breaths and couldn't. I was unable to speak much as I was so breathless."


Dr McGroarty had been working there as a locum doctor in A&E, as well as being a surgical registrar at King's College Hospital.

In a new BBC2 documentary that aired tonight, Geraldine is shown gratefully accepting the chance to try a trial drug, remdesivir, while two other patients turn down the opportunity.

She is the first person to be filmed talking about her experience of taking the drug for Covid-19 and, as viewers can witness, in her case the effects were near miraculous.

Researchers said that her recovery was likely down to her age and fitness, however there have been many who took part in trials that weren't so lucky.

From having feared she may die while taking her first dose, she was well enough to go home only days later.

It was on April 5, after calling 111 from the London home she shares with her partner Guy, 32, who works in finance, that Geraldine was rushed by ambulance to the Royal Free with suspected Covid-19.

There, she was given oxygen via a mask. A chest X-ray showed severe pneumonia affecting Geraldine's left lung and blood tests revealed high levels of inflammatory markers in her bloodstream, indicating her body was fighting a severe infection.

"I couldn't believe what was happening — it was so scary." she told Good Health.

"I was young and fit. I play in a rugby team and regularly run 10km.

"I'd run one the week before in a time of just 46 minutes. Now, here I was on a Covid-19 ward wondering if I was going to die or not. I felt so overwhelmed."

Geraldine had started feeling unwell six days before. At first she had dismissed her symptoms as a case of mild flu.

"I felt achy and very cold at work and went home to self-isolate.

“I must have been exposed to it on the frontline at work – it's a choice I gladly made and will gladly do so again to help in this pandemic.

"I didn't think it was Covid-19 because I'd worn PPE [personal protective equipment] when treating patients.

"But I could have come into contact with patients with Covid who had no symptoms who were in hospital for other reasons. Equally, I was travelling on the Underground and it was packed, so I could have picked it up there.


"I reasoned that if I did have it, it wouldn't be serious as I was young, fit and had no underlying illness."

Dr McGroarty went to bed hoping to have recovered for her 30th birthday in two days' time, but on her birthday she was so weak and breathless she could barely speak during a video call with her parents.

She said: "I ended up going back to bed, feeling too ill to celebrate."

Four days later, her condition nose-dived. "I had the sensation that I was drowning and couldn't get out of bed because I was so weak.

"The paramedics brought me into hospital. It was strange being a patient in the place where I worked and seeing familiar faces."

"I became quite tearful. I was worried I was going to die."

"My biggest worry was that if my breathing didn't improve I'd have to be ventilated. Given what I'd been told by doctors about the survival rate for ventilation, I didn't want that to happen.

"I knew there was a real chance I might not make it."

The next morning Geraldine got a lucky break when she was asked if she'd like to take part in a trial for antiviral drug remdesivir, which has previously been used to treat patients with ebola.

It works by stopping viruses replicating and is being looked at for use against coronavrius because it has been promising in laboratory tests.
However remdesivir is not a proven treatment, nor is it a miracle drug.

Results from early international trials have been mixed with the results of the trial Geraldine was part of to be published at the end of May.

The trial compares the outcome of patients given the drug with those who received standard care of antibiotics, fluids and oxygen.

Geraldine said: "I didn't know much about the drug, but I wanted to give myself the best chance to fight Covid-19 and survive."

She started to feel improvements two days later and was able to come off oxygen.

She added: "It really did turn around quite quickly. I went home only three days after I was given the drug. I can't say for sure why I suddenly got better — but I believe it was down to that."

Geraldine has now recovered and gone back to work part time but still suffers from fatigue and gets out of breath quickly.

She said: "It will probably take months to fully recover from this,' she says. 'Don't underestimate Covid-19 or overestimate how well your body will fight it off."

Consultant physician in infectious diseases at the Royal Free Hospital, Dr Sanjay Bhagani, said: "We have found that patients who get the drug in the first few days in hospital do very well but those patients who are sicker and need ventilators in intensive care don't do as well.

"With Covid-19, most patients get better in about seven days, but a small number don't and if we can catch that group at this stage before they need intensive care, the drug can be very helpful."

Dr Bhagani describes the last few weeks as the hardest in his career.

He said: 'There were times on ward rounds where I'd come across so many sick people and just feel there was nothing else I could do for them, which as a doctor is the worst feeling."

"Although the major manifestation of Covid-19 is in the lungs, it also affects the kidneys, heart and blood-clotting system, making clots more likely, so if we are going to tackle it we need to stop the replication of the virus and turn off the inflammation caused by the immune system."

Geraldine's story is just one being featured in the second part of a BBC2 documentary, Hospital Special: Fighting Covid-19, filmed at the Royal Free during the peak of London's coronavirus crisis, which aired on BBC2 tonight at 9pm.

Following doctors, nurses and managers on the front line in the fight against the pandemic, the deeply emotional — and in parts harrowing — fly-on-the-wall documentary shows up close the battles patients faced in their fight for survival, and the huge pressures on staff and beds.

In moving scenes, it shows doctors in tears as they break bad news by phone to relatives, and desperately-ill patients video-calling their loved ones, not knowing if it will be the last time they see them.

It also shines a light on the frantic hunt for a successful treatment for the illness.


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