Cork doctor who flew home to help in Covid battle was struck ill with coronavirus

After returning from New Zealand with his girlfriend, also a doctor from Cork, at the start of the pandemic, West Cork man Aidan Coffey tells DYLAN O’CONNELL about his own battle with the disease and his hopes for the future
Cork doctor who flew home to help in Covid battle was struck ill with coronavirus

Aidan Coffey and his girlfriend Lorna Kelly, both flew home to Ireland in March 2020, to work in hospitals, in the fight against Covid. Aidan subsequently caught Covid and was very ill.

A CORK doctor who flew home from New Zealand at the start of the pandemic to join the fight here against Covid-19 has spoken about his own battle with the disease.

Aidan Coffey and his Cork girlfriend, Lorna Kelly, also a doctor, from Bantry, flew home in March, 2020, as the world went into lockdown, and have spent the past 20 months working flat out in hospitals across Cork.

But Aidan contracted Covid-19 at the start of the year, and is still suffering the effects of it now.

“I think everyone found last January incredibly grim,” said Aidan. 

“I got Covid at the start of it and people around me started dropping like flies.

“I didn’t want it to get any worse because too many medical staff would have had it. There were too many of us on the ground at that stage. When the lockdown came in around Christmas Eve, I was glad it wasn’t later.

“I had a cough, aches, and pains. I had shortness of breath. I lost my taste and smell which was an awful dose. I was miserable for four or five days.

“After that it wasn’t too bad. It took me a few weeks to get back to some level of fitness.

“My taste isn’t fully back yet. It’s about 80 or 90% of the way back.

“Lorna was lucky, she didn’t get Covid. She just had to isolate and drop all my food to the door! She took very good care of me.”

“I ended up spending a lot of time watching Netflix in quarantine, The US Office was my comfort show back then.”

The West Cork duo were working in the Waikato District Health Board in Hamilton in New Zealand when the world began to shut down over the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was a scary time for everyone, especially medical staff. As the shadows of lockdown and uncertainty fell across the world, the couple decided one morning to fly home and help the fight against Covid-19 in their home county of Cork.

Eighteen months on, and despite Aidan’s own fight with the virus, the couple are thriving.

Dr Coffey currently works in radiology at Cork University Hospital and Mercy University Hospital, while Dr Kelly spends her time in West Cork in Bantry General Hospital.

Looking back on those dark days in March 2020, Dr Coffey recalls: “When we heard about what was happening at home and the severity of the outbreak, we made it our priority to get home as soon as possible.

“We were glued to the news about what was happening back home. Something like this has never happened in Ireland, all we wanted to do was get back to help the war effort against the virus.

“We went into work one morning and got told that we could finish that afternoon if we wanted too. We did and we booked our flights back to Cork when we got home.

“Everything happened so fast. In a moment we were packing up our life and saying goodbye to our friends, knowing that we might never be back in New Zealand.”

The couple returned to Cork, and immediately took up arms on the frontlines of the battle against Covid-19.

“We settled into the hospital straight away. There wasn’t a lot of adjustment. We were already used to working in Ireland, so getting used to the hospital was grand,” Dr Coffey explained.

“It was nice to be back. We got to be close to our families in Bantry.

“Unfortunately, we got to see them the same number of times as if we lived in New Zealand. Even though we couldn’t physically see each other, it was nice.”

The couple got lucky when they arrived home, as West Cork had a low infection rate compared to the rest of the country at the time.

“Dublin took the brunt of the pandemic at the start. Things didn’t seem to be bad in terms of cases in West Cork. But we still treated everyone as a potential Covid patient. Even though we had very few confirmed Covid patients, we still took precautions with everyone.”

“I was lucky going into the pandemic as I was into the swing of things as a doctor. The one thing I was taught through this was: Keep going and keep trudging on.”

Dr Coffey is staying positive.

“We’re a world away from where we were last January and February,” he said.

“You can go out now, meet up with people, get a bite to eat, and travel. The virus will be with us for another bit, but I’m hopeful we’re out of the worst of it.

“Just looking back now, it was nice to see people pulling together when they needed it last year during that dark period.”

After a chaotic Christmas in 2020, Dr Coffey is counting down the days until this year’s festive season so he can unwind a little.

“I’ve a few gigs lined up. It’s so class to be able to go to them again,” he said

“.The lead up to Christmas will be really nice. I can’t wait for the social meet-ups.”

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