Council worker left in coma with Covid after trip to Cheltenham races

Council worker still hasn’t recovered from Covid seven months after trip to Cheltenham races left him in a coma

  • Graham Smith travelled to Cheltenham in the middle of March with some friends 
  • He started feeling ill just one day after the four-day festival came to a close 
  • When his breathing started to deteriorate 12 days later, he was admitted to ICU 
  • And Mr Smith still hasn’t fully recovered seven months after his health scare 

A council worker was left in intensive care with coronavirus days after attending the controversial Cheltenham Races which went ahead despite first-wave Covid cases spiralling. 

Ex-soldier Graham Smith, who works for Liverpool city council, travelled to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, in the middle of March with a group of friends.

He started feeling ill just one day after the four-day festival came to a close and, when his breathing started to deteriorate 12 days later, he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.  

Mr Smith still hasn’t fully recovered seven months after his life-threatening health scare, and has now urged others to ‘put as many measures in place and follow the guidance’. 

Council worker Graham Smith was left in intensive care with coronavirus days after attending the controversial Cheltenham Races which went ahead despite first-wave Covid cases rising

The development manager said: ‘I started feeling unwell on the Saturday after the Cheltenham Friday.

‘I started my self isolation, I’d done 12 days and I wasn’t beating it. It was my breathing that was really starting to go and I rang an ambulance and they came out and took me in to hospital.

‘And within two hours I was in the ICU.’

The government has previously come under fire for allowing Cheltenham Races to go ahead as the first peak of the virus was building earlier this year.

Images of vast crowds of people packed together sparked widespread criticism – with Boris Johnson saying people should ‘as far as possible, go about business as usual’ at the time.

Images of vast crowds of people packed together at Cheltenham sparked widespread criticism – with Boris Johnson saying people should ‘as far as possible, go about business as usual’ at the time

Mr Smith described his stay in the intensive care unit as one of the scariest things he has ever experienced.

He said: ‘I’ve never been into ICU before, I don’t struggle with anything else. I don’t have any underlying health conditions.

‘It was new to me and it was a bit scary when you get in there. 

‘The situation around you with the people who were already on the ventilators, they’re sick and what you see in there, it’s pretty heavy at times.’

Mr Smith said that after three days in the ICU, a consultant told him to call his family as he was being placed into an induced coma.

He said: ‘It was around day three and I was really struggling within the ICU.

‘The head consultant came in and said “Look Graham you need to make those phone calls we talked about”.

‘He said “Speak to your wife, speak to your children, tell them what you need to say because your lungs are looking like they’re about to collapse and we need to get you straight onto a ventilator and an induced coma”. 

‘So that was pretty heavy, that was the worst of it, having that conversation with my family. It’s a hard conversation to have, it’s a conversation that you don’t want anyone to have. It’s rough, even for a tough ex-soldier like myself.’

He said telling his loved ones was the ‘hardest conversation he has ever had to have and was ‘probably the scariest moment’ of his life so far.

He added: ‘I’ve done tours of Bosnia, I’ve been places and I’ve seen [things]. For me personally – and this is only my story – this was far scarier.’

Months later, Mr Smith is still suffering from side effects from his illness and says that people need to be aware.

Thousands of people attended the festival in Gloucestershire, pictured above on March 13

He said: ‘Even now I get chesty, especially in the first 15 minutes of walking or cycling and stuff like that.

‘I can feel tightness within my chest, I still get tired, which again, wasn’t like me.

‘They said it would take six to 12 months or maybe even more. They don’t know the side effects yet. They’re still running tests on me.’

‘Every single day hospitals are full and they’re full with all sorts of people suffering from [Covid].

‘Knowing what I know now, 100 per cent I would try and put as many measures in place and follow the guidance where I could because it’s scary if this thing gets you the way it got me.’ 

In May, a top scientist claimed Cheltenham Festival did lead to more coronavirus deaths and suffering with local case rates increasing ‘several-fold’.

But Number 10 said many factors could be behind the rises.

In March, events on the continent had, in some cases, already been called off or held behind closed doors without spectators.

But the UK was continuing to hold mass gatherings, with Mr Johnson saying at the time that people should ‘as far as possible, go about business as usual’.

Both England and Scotland had a full schedule of football in the first week of March.

Five horse racing meetings and the Six Nations rugby match at Twickenham between England and Wales – which the prime minister attended – had also taken place.

Twenty-four hours before Cheltenham opened up to 250,000 spectators, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘There’s no reason for people not to attend such events or to cancel them at this stage.’

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