Dad nearly killed by Covid clapped from hospital after six-month stay

Peter Rigacs, 46, is applauded by staff as he leaves the Royal Papworth Hospital.

Peter Rigacs, 46, is applauded by staff as he leaves the Royal Papworth Hospital. - Credit: NHS

An unvaccinated father and grandfather who was close to dying from Covid has defied the odds to return home for Christmas.

Father of four, Peter Rigacs, 46, from Norwich, tested positive for coronavirus at the end of July and his condition quickly deteriorated leading to his admission to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital at the start of August.

Within a week he was referred for ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), an artificial lung which is used to support patients in severe respiratory failure, and retrieved by the Royal Papworth Hospital team and brought to Cambridge, where his Covid pneumonia was treated.

Peter Rigacs, 46, with his wife Andrea, son, daughter and grandson.

Peter Rigacs, 46, with his wife Andrea, son, daughter and grandson. - Credit: NHS

While on ECMO and still COVID-positive, he started to bleed inside his chest and needed countless blood transfusions, leading to multiple operations, including emergency thoracic surgery operations to remove blood and clots.

After a total of 83 days on ECMO, around a dozen trips to the operating theatre as well as 97 days in critical care, he was moved to a general cardiothoracic surgery ward in mid-November.

Thanks to physiotherapy support, Mr Rigacs has made a quicker than expected recovery and is now able to walk up and down the ward unaided.

Peter giving the thumbs up to the staff who cared for him at Royal Papworth Hospital

Peter giving the thumbs up to the staff who cared for him at Royal Papworth Hospital. - Credit: NHS

As a result, he was discharged home on Friday, December 10, rather than back to his local hospital, earlier than planned.

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Mr Rigacs said: “I just want to say a huge thank you to all the doctors, nurses, surgeons, physios and everyone who has kept me alive.

“I have seen how hard they worked and how they fought to save me and I will be forever grateful.

“I cannot wait to get home and give my wife, two daughters, two sons and two grandsons a big hug.

"I have missed my family so much and am so excited to be home in time for Christmas. It has been a long time away from them.”

Andrea, Peter’s wife, added: “It was very scary when Peter was so unwell.

"It has been very hard on all of the family.

"It meant a lot to be able to visit him and give him strength, we cannot wait to have him home.”

The multiple operations on Mr Rigacs were performed by a team of dozens in theatre and critical care, with hundreds of people in total involved in his care throughout his time in hospital.

Peter Rigacs, 46, is applauded as he leaves the Royal Papworth Hospital.

Peter Rigacs, 46, is applauded as he leaves the Royal Papworth Hospital. - Credit: NHS

Jo-Anne Fowles, nurse consultant for ECMO and critical care, said: “Before Covid-19, having a patient on ECMO for nearly three months was unthinkable.

"For context, the average length of time for our patients supported on ECMO before the pandemic was about 14 days.

“We have had a number of patients be supported on ECMO for a considerable amount of time like Peter and it is always so rewarding when we have such positive outcomes.

“We have got to know Peter very well since August and we are delighted that he is now heading home for Christmas. We wish him all the best in his continued recovery.”

Aman Coonar, consultant thoracic surgeon, who operated on Mr Rigacs several times, added: “It is almost a miracle that this man who many times we thought would die is now walking around and breathing without additional oxygen requirements.

“We have treated many people with Covid-19 but rarely do we operate on patients while still connected to the ECMO machine.

"In Peter’s case we used some innovative methods, such as a special suction tool on his chest.

"We have never done this before on the lung, but it worked and everything seemed to improve, clearing away blood and allowing his lung to return to its normal size.

“Thanks to a tremendous effort initially from the critical care, ECMO and theatres team, and then from the ward team, physios, occupational therapists, dieticians and so many more over recent weeks he is going directly home to his family for Christmas rather than to his local hospital, ahead of his discharge date.”

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