Families on losing loved ones to Covid: ‘It feels like she’s been snatched away’

Christopher David Lutu, 28, never thought his caring, passionate big sister would pass away from Covid at the age of just 37, weeks away from receiving her first jab.

Fila Lutu had worried about getting vaccinated because she had previously suffered bad reactions to injections, but landing a new job with the NHS had persuaded her to make an appointment.

Unfortunately, it was too late. She returned to their home in Chadwell Heath from a visit to France on Sunday 12 December, and by Monday she had started coughing. On Wednesday, she tested positive, and booked a PCR test for Thursday. From there, she deteriorated quickly. On Friday, the family called an ambulance, but her condition wasn’t considered serious enough at that point. It took her collapsing on the bed from pain in her heart to be admitted to a local hospital.

Overnight, her heart swelled, and in the morning she had a cardiac arrest, from which she died despite attempts at resuscitation. He brother said medical staff were uncertain whether the heart attack was a complication of Covid or the result of an underlying condition aggravated by the virus.

Fila Lutu
Fila Lutu. Photograph: Family handout

Fila Lutu’s death is one of more than 175,000 that make up a grim milestone for the UK. The Office for National Statistics on Tuesday reported 176,035 deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate since March 2020. The figure differs significantly from the government’s official count – which passed 150,000 deaths over the weekend – and uses the criterion that patients have had a positive test within the 28 days before their death.

Lutu said: “It feels like she’s been snatched away from us, because she was an amazing person in the family. It’s going to leave a hole.”

He recalled how growing up as the eldest sibling in a family of nine, Fila “always put the needs of other people before herself”, getting a job at Pizza Hut to support the household, and bringing back leftover pizza and chicken wings.

She had planned to channel her drive and perseverance into a career as a life coach, and had recently completed a course and set up her own business. “She wanted to inspire other people to become better versions of themselves,” Lutu said.

Although the family are devastated by their loss, Lutu hopes that, even after her death, Fila will still be able to help people. He is fundraising for the local hospital in her memory, and hopes that her experience will encourage others to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. “I’d say, if you’re going to get it anyway, do it as soon as possible and don’t delay it, because we don’t know if it would have changed anything.”

For Taylor Syme, 20, this Christmas was supposed to be about enjoying time with family in their hometown of Falkirk. Instead, she, her three siblings and their three children spent the holidays desperately hoping that their 42-year-old mum, Kelly-Anne Syme, and their grandma, who is still in hospital, would survive their Covid infections after the entire family caught the virus in December.

Syme said her mum, who was vulnerable to serious infection as she was battling two lung diseases, tested positive for coronavirus on 20 December despite rarely leaving the home other than for essential reasons.

Initially, Kelly-Anne felt slightly unwell and had headaches, but by Christmas Eve she had to be taken to intensive care because she was unable to breathe. Doctors said she was so weak that if she was put on a ventilator she would never come off it, and she passed away in the early hours of 4 January.

For Syme, the fact that the Omicron wave is resulting in milder infections and fewer restrictions is cold comfort. “We’re absolutely heartbroken. We were meant to be planning Christmas together. We weren’t planning on saying bye to our mum. If people had taken the lockdown seriously, Mum would still be here. [Governments] lifted it too early, opening clubs, pubs and schools. We were just fighting the inevitable,” she said.

As their father died six years earlier, Kelly-Anne’s youngest daughter, who is 12, will now be cared for by her older siblings. Syme said her mum leaves behind a “close-knit family” because she “raised us very well”.

Syme is raising money for her mum’s funeral to “give her the send off she deserves”. In a tribute on the fundraising page, she wrote: “She had the biggest heart and most infectious smile. She was the best mum and the best wee granny.”

David Garfinkel, 49, lost his father Ivor, 76, to Covid after so-called freedom day on 19 July. In the summer, the public awaited a return to normality after more than a year of coronavirus restrictions. Nightclubs reopened, large events resumed and social distancing ended.

For Garfinkel, however, what followed was “one of the worst experiences you can go through”.

After catching the virus, Ivor, who had an autoimmune condition, gradually deteriorated. With the help of a family doctor, he was admitted to hospital and put on a drip. “We spoke to him briefly for the first time in weeks as he had been so tired before [that] he was in and out of consciousness and we could not get any sense out of him,” Garfinkel said.

This was the last time he would speak to his dad. Within a few days, Ivor was taken to intensive care and put on a ventilator. After three days, doctors said they planned to switch the support off, but Garfinkel wasn’t allowed to say goodbye. “His body was ravaged by Covid,” he said.

Ivor, who was 76, had started life working for Marks & Spencer, before setting up his own business as an importer of accessories. “He was the kind of person who would always put other people first. If someone was in need, he would be there,” Garfinkel said.

The experience has been traumatic for him. “There is a state of shock and denial around what has happened. You never get a chance to forget or move on. Covid is always in the news, and you are always asking, ‘What if’, every time there is talk of a new medicine to help or vaccination booster.”

He has been surprised by the selfishness of people when it comes to mask-wearing and the “incompetence of the government”. “Behind every single coronavirus death, there are family and friends. It is not just one person lost; there are lots of people left behind picking up the pieces.”