‘True love story’ couple cared for together at IRH during final days

By Lucy Ashton

The daughter of two patients who were able to spend some of their final days together at Inverclyde Royal Hospital has praised staff for their compassion and for recognising ‘a true love story’.Margaret O’Brien and her husband Alfie O’Brien sadly both required end of life care at the same time earlier this year, after it was discovered Margaret had terminal brain cancer, while Alfie was experiencing organ failure in his lungs, liver and heart.

The pair, who lived in Skelmorlie, were inseparable during their 58 years of marriage, travelling the world together and helping daughter Vanessa look after their beloved grandchildren Ben, 19, and Carla, 21.

When both became unwell in January, they were initially in separate wards in the IRH, but after medical staff noticed conditions worsening, they decided to make arrangements for the pair to both be together while they received treatment.

Alfie was admitted to hospital on January 4, after displaying symptoms of pneumonia, a condition he had most winters. But, following tests, it was discovered his organs were failing. While he was in hospital Margaret stayed with Vanessa, who began to notice her mum was getting a bit confused and took her to her local GP Dr Rai, who advised that he wanted to refer her for a brain scan.

Vanessa said: “I cannot thank the staff enough for everything they did for our family and for my mum and dad. The efforts were amazing, both consultants Dr Maycock and Dr Simmons were absolutely brilliant. They kept us up to date with exactly what was going on and even worked together to explain the situation of what was happening with mum to my dad in such a compassionate and caring way.

“When both my parents were at Inverclyde Royal Hospital they were initially in different wards, after it became clear it wasn’t looking good for either of them a staff member asked me if I thought they would like to be together in a room they had found. I thought that was amazing, it was a great idea. My mum and dad were inseparable, you didn’t get one without the other so getting the chance to have some more time together at that time, that’s just incredible. It was huge for the family as it meant we could always be with them too.”

After some time together at the IRH, the couple were moved to Bridge of Weir Care Home, where Margaret passed away by her husband’s side.

Ten days later, on February 27, at home with his family, Alfie passed away. The family were able to arrange a funeral for the couple, in March, with a double coffin, meaning they were back together.

Vanessa said: “I would say this has been beautifully tragic, I think that’s the best way of putting it. It’s a strange feeling, I can’t tell you how at peace I am. My parents had everything how they wanted it, they were able to spend some of their final precious moments together at the IRH then at the care home.

“We have experienced every part of the care services during this time and I cannot speak highly enough of everyone. From the consultants who treated and comforted my parents, the nursing teams who arranged the room for them and provided such great care, to the GP Dr Rai and the care home staff, everyone went above and beyond for our family.

“My parents were legends, I think staff at Inverclyde Royal Hospital recognised the true love story that was their marriage and relationship. Our whole family have lost our best pals, which is hard, but we’re comforted to know they were together throughout all of this. The kindness we have experienced will never be forgotten.”

Melanie McColgan, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s director for Clyde said: “I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to all of the O’Brien family.

“Our entire team were moved by Alfie and Margaret’s story and were honoured to be able to provide some comfort to them and to the entire family during an emotional time.

“Our patients, their families and the whole IRH community are so important to our staff, who continue to go above and beyond for those they care for and we are touched by Vanessa’s kind words.”

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