Sunderland's first coronavirus patient and the doctors who saved her life look back on her battle with virus one year on

It has been a year since Sunderland’s first coronavirus patient, Marion Jolliff, was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed with the virus.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 5:00 pm

The 63-year-old from Pennywell, says she is ‘lucky to be here’ following her agonising battle with Covid-19 the effects of which still feels today – 12 months on from becoming seriously ill.

The great-grandmother was in a coma for three weeks after she was taken to South Tyneside District Hospital on March 5, 2020.

She tested positive for coronavirus and spent more than four weeks in hospital undergoing intensive treatment.

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Marion Joliff was the first person South Tynside and Sunderland NHS Trust treated for coronavirus one year ago

But it was only after she came home that Marion learned her brother, Joe Jenkins, 65, of the Ford Estate, had sadly died on April 1, 2020 following his own battle with Covid-19.

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Looking back at her ordeal on the anniversary of her hospital admission, Marion says it was the dedication of her consultants and the medical staff that saved her life.

Marion Jolliff in hospital as she recovered from coronavirus.

“I’m lucky to be here,” she said.

“I went into the hospital on Thursday and on the Friday my husband Alen told me he got a call to say I was deteriorating and they didn't expect me to last the night.

"They were trying different medications with it being a new virus to the UK. They didn't know what to use against it. I was on steroids and different antibiotics.

"They were in touch with someone in America, asking if they could use a medication that wasn't licensed for use in this country.

Marion Jolliff with her husband Alen.

"It took four days of calls and the consultant in South Tyneside Hospital was on the phone for 90 minutes on the fourth day when they finally said yes they could use it.

"I think that and the dedicated care of the staff in ITU was what pulled me through.

"I even gave them permission to publish in a medical journal all the different treatments they used in the hope that it will help others in my situation.

"The whole team went above and beyond to help me.”

Marion Jolliff is back home in Pennywell following her battle with coronavirus.

However, it has been a long road to recovery for Marion, who says she is still suffering from what she believes to be long covid symptoms, including breathlessness.

"I didn’t think a year on I would still be suffering like this… I would have thought I would be back to where I was,” she said.

“You think a year on you would have made a full recovery but with long covid you don’t know how long it will last.”

Marion says she has also been left with memory loss following her ordeal – something she believes is linked to her battle with coronavirus.

Seeing Joseph at the Sunderland Empire Theatre on February 19 is her last memory.

"All I remember is dropping my grandson off in the taxi,” she said.

“I have no memory from then until a man’s voice asked me: ‘do you agree to go on a ventilator Marion?’ and I remember saying: ‘If it will help me. If it will save me.’

“My next memory is being on the ward and the girls giving me bed baths – that was April.

"It is just a nightmare not knowing what has happened [during that time in hospital]. But then maybe that is a blessing.

“Now I can remember stuff from years ago but ask me what I did a couple of days ago and I wouldn’t have a clue. I have no short-term memory now. Nothing at all.”

“I would love to know where I got it from, but I still haven’t a clue,” she said.

"I remember saying to Alen; ‘don’t go far because I don’t feel well’ – and that was March 5.

"Sometime in that three weeks I had only been in the front garden and the back garden so it makes you wonder – where did it come from?”

The first two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were on January 31, involving two Chinese nationals who had fallen ill at a hotel in York on January 29.

The pair were initially taken to a hospital in Hull where they were first tested, before being transferred to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary where they were confirmed to have Covid-19.

On February 6, a British man in Brighton became the third person in Britain to be diagnosed with the virus after travelling to the UK from Singapore.

Later that month, on February 28, the first person to catch coronavirus in the UK was diagnosed – a man from Surrey, who had not been abroad.

A woman in her 70s became the first person in the UK to have died from the virus just a week later on March 5.

Since then, more than 121,674 people in the UK have tragically died after contracting Covid-19.

But hope has been offered by the development and subsequent roll out of coronavirus vaccines in the UK and around the world to protect people from the virus.

She urged others to get the vaccine when they are offered, saying: “Get it – it could save your life."

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, she added: “I’m hoping that eventually they will get covid under control.”

Dr Christian Frey, Consultant in Anaesthesia and Critical Care at South Tyneside District Hospital, said: “When Marion was first admitted to hospital, coronavirus was a complete unknown to us.

"She had a tough battle against covid and her recovery was gradual, but each small step boosted our spirits and she has made a remarkable recovery considering how critically ill she has been.

“There is no doubt that the pandemic has been incredibly difficult for all of the team and taken both a physical and emotional toll, but doing our very best for our patients is what really matters and that’s what motivates us every day.

“We’re all very proud to work together and the camaraderie and feeling that we are all in this together makes a huge difference to morale.

"We are learning more about covid all the time and that is very encouraging.

"The progress that has been made through research into covid treatments and the development of the vaccine is like nothing I have seen in my entire career and gives us a real sense of hope for the future.”

Louise Rowe, ICCU Coordinator at South Tyneside District Hospital, said: “It was fantastic to see Marion recover and return home to her family.

"Seeing patients get better, especially when they have been particularly unwell, is so rewarding for the team.

"It really does make the work we do worthwhile and gives us a renewed sense of hope during the most difficult of times.”

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