Family thank staff for allowing them to sit by father as he dies with coronavirus
Alex Yuen and family in happier days
A family has thanked staff on the Cavell and Rodney-Smith wards at St George’s hospital for allowing them to spend crucial last moments with their father, who sadly died from coronavirus last month.
Daughter Elysia Yuen, 32, said it was “by the grace of god” that the family were to be able to be with their father, Alex Yuen, 71, when he passed away.
“We are just so thankful we were able to be there by his side and that he wasn’t alone,” she said. “I know a lot of people didn’t have that opportunity.”
Elysia said that being with their father has allowed the family to deal with their grief a lot better.
They hope that the media coverage their family has received has helped to prompt some of the recent changes in guidance to allow families to be there in the last moments, where possible.
The latest NHS guidance says hospital visiting is suspended, but does list several exceptions.
This includes an immediate family member or carer visiting someone receiving end-of-life care, including visits to coronavirus patients.
But this is determined on a case-by-case basis and families are encouraged to keep in touch with their loved ones by phone or video call.
“For families who aren’t able to see their loved ones at the end, that’s just terrible, these new changes are amazing,” said Elysia. “I know it’s a difficult balance. You can’t have so many people in the Covid wards, but people can’t be left to die alone.”
Alex Yuen ran a Chinese clinic on Balham High Road for more than 20 years and had treated many common conditions like lower back pain. His family say he transformed many lives through his focus on restorative sleep and a caring approach.
Alex had been ill for a couple of weeks before his condition suddenly worsened, and he had to be taken into hospital.
On hearing the news, Elysia, who lives in Devon, immediately drove to the hospital in Wandsworth. When she arrived she said she “pleaded” with the nursing staff to see her father outside of the official visiting hours, explaining that she hadn’t seen him since Chinese new year.
She was eventually allowed in, but says it felt “surreal.”
“I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there,” she said.
She describes donning the various pieces of personal protective equipment including hand sanitiser, gloves, face masks, and a plastic apron.
“I think always in the back of my mind I didn’t think he would pass away, and I didn’t want him to think that I thought he would pass away, and that’s why I didn’t come home sooner,” she said.
Family phone call. Son Sebastian Yuan, top left.
Alex Yuan in his hospital bed with Elysia by his side.
The family later managed to arrange a group video call with their brother in Singapore, and another brother in Sheffield.
The call lasted 15-20 minutes, and allowed the family to be together one last time.
“At that point my dad was quite breathless,” said Elysia. “He was quite quiet compared to his usual self. He was very accepting. He just kept saying ‘yes, yes, yes.’ He wasn’t stringing many sentences together.”
Shortly after she left the ward a doctor came over, and said a palliative nurse was speaking with her father who was becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
“In the first place he didn’t want to go to hospital because he feared he was going to die alone,” said Elysia.
“Every day he would call us, and say he wanted to come home.
“We reassured him that the best place for him was in hospital so he could get better and that he could recover from it.”
She was told her father did not have long left to live, and hours later, while sitting in the hallway, doctors came over to say the family should see him quickly.
“We were rushing, trying to put the PPE on to get to my dad’s bedside. I was the first one to his bedside and his eyes were slightly open, looking upwards,” said Elysia.
“He wasn’t talking. I don’t know how conscious he was. But I just told him that he was home now and that he got his own way, and obviously that we loved him.”
“My mum told him to ‘let go, don’t worry’. My sister said to close his eyes. And he closed his eyes. We frantically said ‘we love you’ and we would see him again, don’t worry. Then he took his last breaths.”
Alex Yuen passed away March 30, 2020. Now his family has set up a JustGiving page in their father’s memory to help complete and publish his “life’s work,” a book on the power of restorative sleep as well as continue to offer treatments to people who cannot afford it.
To donate, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/alexyuen1
After Elysia’s brother Sebastian spoke to journalists on ITV and Sky News about the family’s experience, Jacqueline Totterdell, Chief Executive at St George’s Hospital Trust tweeted: Thank you for your kind words and please accept our sadness for you and your family. You stay safe, stay well.”
April 20, 2020