Covid Inquiry: Health worker left traumatised by dad’s goodbye Zoom call

Anne-Marie O’Neill with her late father John, who died from Covid-19. The family were only allowed to say goodbye to him via Zoom.Anne-Marie O’Neill with her late father John, who died from Covid-19. The family were only allowed to say goodbye to him via Zoom.
Anne-Marie O’Neill with her late father John, who died from Covid-19. The family were only allowed to say goodbye to him via Zoom.
A Belfast care home worker who looked after dementia patients during the pandemic has spoken of her “horrendous” goodbye call to her beloved father.

John O’Neill, a former timber yard foreman, contracted Covid-19 and spent six weeks in hospital, alone, before passing away on December 13, 2020, aged 79.

His heartbroken daughter Anne-Marie O’Neill (55), a mother of two grown-up daughters herself, said she will never get over not seeing her daddy before his death.

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“We weren’t even allowed to call him,” she said. “They kept saying he was too heavily sedated and wouldn’t recognise our voices.

“We got a Zoom call the morning he died to say our goodbyes. That horrendous experience will haunt me forever.”

After Mr O’Neill collapsed at home on November 1, he was taken to The Mater where he spent four days, before being transferred to Belfast City Hospital.

Shortly afterwards, Anne-Marie’s mother Rhoda, who’s 82, was also hospitalised at The Mater with Covid but recovered and was later discharged.

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Anne-Marie said it was a harrowing time for her brother John, her sister Kim and herself, having both parents seriously ill in different hospitals.

“Mummy was only back home five days when daddy died,” she said. “It all happened too quickly. I was not expecting that call. That Zoom call was the first time we’d seen him since he was taken away from us in an ambulance.”

Health worker Anne-Marie, who worked with dementia patients, said her father was “very fit” with “no underlying health conditions” prior to contracting Covid.

She added that before his death, he’d been out of an induced coma for 12 days. Events leading up to that final call are therefore, understandably, a source of great distress.

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“The hospital rang every day with an update,” she said. “On that Sunday morning, June 13, they said daddy had had a really bad night and it was time to get the family together. I was extremely shocked because up until then we’d been getting good reports. I phoned the whole family and told them I thought this was the end.”

Everyone gathered at her parents’ house; the Zoom call came through at 3.10pm.

“Daddy looked like he was still in a coma,” Anne-Marie said.

“He didn’t say a word but when we were saying our goodbyes there were tears streaming down his face.”

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She added: “That broke my heart. And it’s that image I'll never, ever be able to un-see.”

For Anne-Marie, it might be “too difficult” to attend the Belfast sitting of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. At the same time, she wants answers.

“Someone must be held accountable for what happened,” she said.

“On the day of my daddy’s funeral, there was a wine and cheese party at 10 Downing Street.

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“We weren’t allowed to bring daddy home for a wake and most of our family couldn’t go to daddy’s funeral but there was a party at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s house.”

The O’Neills do not believe the inquiry will ease their heartache in any way but, as Anne-Marie says: “We want to know who made the decisions and we want to know the truth.

“Lessons must be learned and this can’t ever happen again. When my daddy died, a big part of me died with him.”

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