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Local man shares ‘super-human effort’ of hospital staff to save his life


A businessman and keen cyclist from Rutland has shared his experience of being diagnosed with COVID-19, hospitalised and later entered into clinical trials that put him on a path to recovery, thanks to medical and research staff at Leicester’s Hospitals.

Stephen Gannon, 61, developed COVID-pneumonia in November 2020 but within nine days was requiring oxygen support and rushed to hospital. X-rays confirmed that the virus had quite severely affected his lungs. 

He said: “Initially, I felt incredibly tired, had lost taste and went for my COVID test, then I continued to deteriorate. By mid-week, I had no appetite and stopped eating.”

As his symptoms worsened, Stephen’s family called NHS111. 

He recalls: “I was on my side trying to breathe. I went to have a bath but the effort to get out of the bath and the walk from the bath to the bedroom was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

The family called for an ambulance and by the time it had arrived Stephen’s oxygen had dipped by about 10 per cent of a healthy level.

 “Without overdramatising the situation, both me and my loved ones thought I might not be coming back." 

His son and business partner, Daniel Gannon, waited in fear along with the Stephen’s family: “We were extremely worried that we weren’t going to see him again. He’s had chest infections in the past, so the idea that COVID was on his lungs was pretty terrifying.”  

Whilst in hospital, Stephen was recruited into the RECOVERY-RS clinical trial, where he was allocated a CPAP mask that continuously pushes an oxygen-air mixture into the airways to support breathing, as well as the RECOVERY trial that is investigating new treatments for COVID-19. 

In the RECOVERY trial, Stephen was randomly assigned to receive ‘convalescent plasma’ - blood plasma containing COVID antibodies, donated by people who have recovered from COVID infection. Thanks to Stephen, and others like him, there is now enough evidence to show that convalescent plasma does not make a big difference in treating patients hospitalised with COVID-19. 

Stephen was also treated with dexamethasone, a steroid tablet that is now an established treatment for severe COVID-19 based on data collected earlier in the RECOVERY trial , as well as aspirin, as the team seek to understand if the blood thinning qualities of aspirin can prevent the formation of blood clots associated with COVID-19. The potential benefits are not yet understood fully, and so it’s important that more information is collected.   

Stephen said: “Clearly if research leads to the fact that steroids were given that saved my life, then it’s vital. I agreed to every study they offered! In my view, I’ve gone in and I’m in a serious situation, so why not?

“The team at Glenfield were super-human in their efforts, they really were amazing. Even though I was very ill, I could see how fantastic the work was that they were doing.”  

Daniel agrees. He said: “Families in a similar situation to us should carefully consider the opportunities available through clinical trials for their loved ones. I think the level of care and expertise in the NHS is astounding. I wouldn’t have wanted him in any other care system in the world.” 

Thankfully for Stephen, just ten days later he was reunited with his family – fiancée Cathy, and children, Daniel and Leonie. He knows that he is one of the fortunate ones. But it wasn’t plain sailing and Stephen continues to experience some symptoms. 

He said: “When you come out of hospital you’re not fixed. You’re on this journey. There were a number of times I woke in the night and could hardly feel my breath on my hand. It was really scary on nights like that. Thankfully, they seem to have passed. 

While Stephen struggled to walk more than a mile when he was first discharged from hospital, in just under two months he could walk for three hours.

“I’m 60 per cent of what I was. Before COVID I could cycle 70-80 miles in a day. Now I couldn’t think about getting on my bicycle because I just don’t think I’ve got the capacity to cycle up a hill.”

Stephen is now an advocate for clinical research and will take part in the PHOSP-COVID study, a national programme led by Leicester that looks at the long-term effects of COVID-19 on patients who were hospitalised with the disease.  


Rachael Dowling, head of research communications, researchcomm@uhl-tr.nhs.uk