Wife tells how she had 10 minutes to say goodbye to husband after being told he has 'zero chance' of surviving Covid-19

Imogen Braddick
Sue Martin

A mother-of-two has shared the heartbreaking moment she was told to say goodbye to her husband in intensive care after she was told he had "zero chance" of surviving Covid-19.

Sue Martin, 49, from South Wales, was devastated after doctors said they could do nothing more for her husband, Mal, 58, who she described as "very, very healthy" before he became unwell with coronavirus.

After 10 days at home and Mal's condition progressively worsening, she called for an ambulance and watched her husband walk out of the house with paramedics, unable to go with him.

She received a call from the Princess of Wales Hospital a few hours later, telling her he would have to go straight to intensive care and put on a ventilator.

Mal Martin with his two children (Sue Martin)

As he deteriorated over the next week and showed no signs of improving, the hospital told Sue and her two children, Wiliam, 13, and Hana, 16, to prepare for the worst.

The family were given 10 minutes to say goodbye.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We just told him that we loved him. It was heartbreaking to hear the children tell him that they were going to make him proud."

Mal, who has been married to Sue for 28 years, first started feeling unwell on March 19, complaining of flu-like symptoms.

He is type 2 diabetic and suffered a heart attack four years ago but Sue said he has been fine since and lives a healthy life.

"We were prepared for a week of him being really unwell and he just got progressively worse," Sue said. "The cough was the worse thing for him. It was like nothing else I've heard before."

After a week with no improvements to Mal's health, Sue rang the local GP surgery, who spoke with Mal, and spoke to Sue about how to take vital observations of her husband's health.

Sue and her two children got 10 minutes to say goodbye to their dad (Sue Martin)

But Mal's condition deteriorated rapidly over the next few days and Sue called for an ambulance.

"His breathing rate had become very, very rapid and that's when I rang an ambulance," she said.

"We were told that we were not allowed to go with him when he left, which was awful because I wish now we had been able to give him a hug."

Later that day, she received a call from the hospital and was told Mal would have to go straight to intensive care.

"They told me then that he was very, very sick and that they weren't sure he was going to come through it, so it was very sudden," she said.

"He actually walked out of the house. Although he was very weak because he hadn't eaten anything and he was very poorly, he still walked out of the house, and I really thought that a couple of days on oxygen and he would be back home with us.

"But the nurse said she had spoken to him and he was aware of what was going to happen and that they were going to put him to sleep and put him on a ventilator to do his breathing for him because his body was very, very tired and he was extremely poorly.

"At that stage, I didn't really know what that meant - I think I just assumed a ventilator was like another type of oxygen mask...I didn't realise it was life support."

Sue and her husband Mal, who have been married for 28 years (Sue Martin)

Mal had asked the nurse to ring the family because he was too upset to make the call.

"They had gone through with him that he might not come out of it," Sue said.

"I asked if we could ring him, so we FaceTimed him - myself and the children. It was difficult for him to talk because he had an oxygen mask on. He was obviously struggling to breathe.

"And we just told him how much we loved him. I said I was really sorry I hadn't sent him in earlier."

She added: "He promised he was going to fight it and he said to my daughter, who is 16, 'don't worry, I'm going to be around a while yet, I'm going to be hear for your wedding, for you growing up'."

The hospital said if he did come through the illness, it would be a long recovery of up to a year.

Sue and Mal exchanged a few more text messages and he promised he was going to fight it and said '"it was not his time".

"Then the text messages stopped going through and I knew at that point he had been taken to ICU," Sue said.

"That day was really when everything changed for us. We've just been existing since."

Sue said the family "had a bit of hope" for the first few days, with the doctors telling her her husband had a 50/50 chance of survival.

But after a few days, when doctors tried to wean him off the ventilator, they were unable to do so.

"We thought he was improving and then he took a dive and they were unable to reduce the oxygen, they had to put it back up," Sue said.

"He continued to deteriorate, after a few days his kidneys failed and he went on dialysis.

"He was just getting progressively worse."

Mal's children said they would make him proud (Sue Martin)

The worst day for Sue was one week after he was taken into hospital.

She said: "They said there was almost zero chance that he was going to survive.

"They were at the maximum level that they could give him of adrenalin to keep his blood pressure high enough to round to his organs and that he was on the brink and that they couldn't so anything more for him."

Later that day, Sue rang the hospital back and begged to be able to see him.

The hospital agreed and Sue and her two children got ten precious minutes with Mal to say their goodbyes.

"We had to be in full protective gear, we weren't allowed to touch him, but we could speak to him," she said.

"Essentially we were going in to say our goodbyes. I said to the children, 'You absolutely don't have to do this, this is a personal choice, there's no right or wrong'.

"But they both wanted very much to come and see him. because they hadn't been able to hug him before they left."

Sue said it looked like Mal was just asleep, with "so many tubes and wires".

She said: "We told him that we loved him and it was heartbreaking to hear the children tell him that they were going to make him proud...we were really glad to have that time with him.

"It was very hard, it was very hard not to touch him but we were glad to get to see him."

The family expected it to be Mal's last day, but the consultants said there had been a slight improvement.

His lungs and kidneys had failed, but there was a slight increase in his blood pressure.

She said: "He is still extremely desperately ill and there's still almost zero chance of him pulling through, but that was Monday and we are on Wednesday...no improvement, but no deterioration.

"Although everyday we prepare for the worst, there's a little glimmer of just maybe, just maybe, he might turn a corner."

Sue praised the

After airing on Radio 4 on Thursday, Sue's story touched many listeners, with people paying tribute to her bravery.

One wrote on Twitter: "I'm in deep admiration of the strength and eloquence of Sue Martin, most of us would fall apart."

Another said: "Just heard a clip of a lady called Sue Martin, talking about her husband Mal, and her children saying goodbye to him as he has little chance of pulling through coronavirus. Broke my heart. Love to you and your family."

Other listeners said they were left in tears after hearing Sue talk about her devastating experience.

One Twitter user said: "I listen to today programme most days but have never cried.

"But Sue Martin speaking on @BBCr4today about her husband Mal who is on life support was so moving.

"Shocking hearing how quick his decline was. She spoke so well and sounds like the #nhs staff were so compassionate."

Another said: "Thank you @BBCr4today for telling Sue Martin and her family’s story this morning.

"It reinforced the heartbreaking reality of #COVID19. Deeply, deeply moving. Tears all over our toast. A must listen for anyone who is even remotely dismissive of the risks of #coronavirus."

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