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Father-of-four home for Christmas after battling Covid-19 at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge for months



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A father-of-four and grandfather has spoken of his excitement at going home for Christmas after spending more than four months in the Royal Papworth Hospital fighting Covid-19.

Peter Rigacs, 46, was unvaccinated and tested positive for Covid-19 at the end of July. He quickly deteriorated and was admitted to his local hospital in Norwich at the start of August.

Peter Rigacs, 46, leaves Royal Papworth after spending four months battling Covid-19
Peter Rigacs, 46, leaves Royal Papworth after spending four months battling Covid-19

His condition continued to decline and within a week he was referred to the Royal Papworth in Cambridge to be supported on an artificial lung, used to treat the most critically ill Covid-19 patients.

Doctors believed he was likely to die but, after defying the odds many times, he was finally able to go home to applause from staff last Friday (December 10).

“I just want to say a huge thank you to all the doctors, nurses, surgeons, physios and everyone who has kept me alive,” Peter said from his hospital room.

“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.”

Peter was put on the artificial lung known as ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), which is used for patients in severe respiratory failure. But then he started to bleed inside his chest. He needed countless blood transfusions and was operated on multiple times, undergoing emergency thoracic surgery to remove blood and clots.

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

Peter Rigacs, 46 leaves Royal Papworth after spending four months in hospital. Peter is seen with his wife Andrea, son, daughter and grandson.
Peter Rigacs, 46 leaves Royal Papworth after spending four months in hospital. Peter is seen with his wife Andrea, son, daughter and grandson.

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

As a result, he was discharged home at the end of last week, rather than back to his local hospital, earlier than planned.

Andrea, Peter’s wife, said: “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.”

Peter Rigacs, 46 thanks the Royal Papworth staff
Peter Rigacs, 46 thanks the Royal Papworth staff

The multiple operations on Peter 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.

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.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine treating a patient suffering with Covid-19 on the critical care unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital, Cambridge. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine treating a patient suffering with Covid-19 on the critical care unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital, Cambridge. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA

“We have gotten 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 Peter 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.

Peter Rigacs leaving Royal Papworth Hospital
Peter Rigacs leaving Royal Papworth Hospital

“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.

Peter Rigacs leaving Royal Papworth Hospital
Peter Rigacs leaving Royal Papworth Hospital

“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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