Seven doctors and 25 nursing staff members were part of the medical team that looked after the couple. (AP/File)
One of the 10 ‘hotspots’ in the country, Pathanamthitta district in Kerala got a news to warm its heart on Monday. A couple, 93-year-old Thomas and Mariyamma, 88, suffering from age-related illnesses and underlying diseases, tested negative for coronavirus and are set to be discharged from hospital. He had a heart attack while hospitalised, she a bacterial infection, while a nurse who tended to them also tested positive.
Five other members of the family — the couple’s son, daughter-in-law, grandson and two other relatives — left hospital on Monday after being declared clear of COVID-19. The staff, including doctors, bid a tearful farewell as the five left the General Hospital in Pathanamthitta.
The son’s family came from Italy to the family home at Aythala in Pathanamthitta on February 29 and is believed to have passed on the virus to the couple. Said the couple’s son, 55, “We were planning to come on leave in August. But father said he may not survive until then.”
The three-member family had to face the ire of Kerala’s Health Department and public censure after it became clear that they had skipped the screening at the Kochi airport upon their arrival and not informed the authorities of their foreign travel. They had not practised social distancing either, attending functions and travelling, including to post-offices, banks and police stations. Over 900 people, who had primary or secondary contact with the family during the period, were put in quarantine by the Health Department.
The five as well as the aged couple had developed symptoms associated with coronavirus and visited the General Hospital in Pathanamthitta on March 6. Two days later, they tested positive and, a day later, the couple whose case was more serious than the others were moved to Kottayam Medical College Hospital.
The treatment was planned by the medical staff keeping in mind that Thomas and Mariyamma had diabetes, hypertension plus other ailments associated with age.
The first few days were tough, with Thomas developing chest pain and cardiac complications. Initially, he and Mariyamma were kept in separate rooms, but as this made them anxious, they were moved into the transplant ICU where they could at least see each other.
However, Thomas continued to deteriorate, with intense cough and the accumulation of phlegm causing his oxygen levels to fluctuate and requiring him to be put on ventilator support. In between, he suffered a heart attack. Both Thomas and Mariyamma had to be also treated for urinary infection, and later the 88-year-old also caught a bacterial infection.
A Health Department release said the couple, who wanted to return home, at times refused to eat and were uncooperative with the nursing staff.
Last week, as his condition was stabilised, Thomas was taken off ventilator. Their tests for coronavirus have come negative, and they are stable. The medical board would decide on a date for discharge soon.
In a release, Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja congratulated the staff of the Kottayam Medical College. Seven doctors and 25 nursing staff members were part of the medical team that looked after the couple. Shailaja also promised full support for the nurse who tested positive on March 27.
The nurse told The Indian Express, “The couple knew about the seriousness of coronavirus but just wanted to return home. As the mother is suffering from hearing loss due to age, I had to stand very close to her while speaking.”
Dr Sajith Kumar R, Head of Infectious Diseases Department at the hospital, said, “It could be a rare a chapter in the treatment of COVID-19 as a person above 60 years is considered high-risk. Saving their lives could be called a rare achievement. I would say their survival was luck, as anything could have happened. There were six occasions when we thought we were going to lose Thomas. Also, God blessed them.”
As the couple’s son, his wife (53), son (25), and two other relatives, were released Monday from the General Hospital, the staff clapped and cheered. The family was given a box of sweets, packets of cooked food for the night, and cartons of food and other supplies they would require for the next two weeks of mandatory home quarantine. The Health Department stipulates those who recover from illness to spend at least 14 days in home isolation, after which they are tested again.
Fighting back tears, the 53-year-old said, “I want to thank all of them, the nurses, doctors, the district collector, for taking care of us for the last 25 days... We never thought we would go back home alive. I want to thank God and tell everyone that I will remember all of you in our prayers.”
The 25-year-old admitted that they had been wrong in not adhering to protocol but said the mistake was unintentional, and hoped the health staff and public would understand. He also thanked the hospital staff for being there for them, including giving mental support.
Pathanamthitta Collector P B Nooh put up a post on his official Facebook page, saying, “They did not intentionally spread the disease. It’s only that the disease was first reported in them. These things can happen to anyone. That’s why nobody should disseminate their photos on social media or attempt to isolate or persecute them. Instructions have been issued to the station officer and SP regarding their security. I hope that the people of Pathanamthitta will not indulge in such acts.”
In her statement, Shailaja said, “At one stage, the (aged) couple were in a very critical situation. They were brought back from the abyss of death because of the excellent care and treatment at the medical college hospital.”
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