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Case study: Taking part in COVID-19 research: Shaun’s story

Shaun Rowlands took three drugs as part of a trial into COVID-19 treatments during two months in Reading’s Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Mr Rowlands was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma - a form of blood cancer - a year earlier. He said: “Luckily I got on with my chemotherapy and went into remission, but my immune system was still compromised when the COVID pandemic struck.

“My wife Deborah had COVID symptoms, but I showed none until about two weeks later. All of a sudden I couldn’t taste my dinner and I had a week in bed.

“At first I didn’t worry. I’ve been through cancer, I’ve been through chemotherapy. I thought ‘I’ve dealt with this, it’s not a problem’. It wasn’t until my temperature rose and I was sat by the radiator with a duvet around myself that I started to get scared. I began to panic, so we called an ambulance.

“I remember going into hospital and the few days after, but the next six to eight weeks are a complete blur.”

The father-of-two, from Henley-on-Thames, was diagnosed with COVID-19 when he was admitted to hospital and offered the trial by his doctor. He said: “The doctor came to me to ask if I wanted to take part in the trial while I was still reasonably coherent and I said ‘yes, definitely, let’s do it’. I felt very positive about doing it.

“When I had cancer, the NHS and hospital saved my life. I think I owe it to them to give something back. That’s why I wanted to take part in the trial.”

As part of the RECOVERY trial, Mr Rowlands was given antiviral drugs lopinavir-ritonavir before he was taken to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. He was given immunosuppressive drug tocilizumab for three days and his condition began to improve.

Researchers on the trial found steroid dexamethasone and tocilizumab can reduce deaths while convalescent plasma and drugs lopinavir-ritonavir, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are not effective.

Mr Rowlands, who lost three stone while in hospital, said: “Most of the time I wasn’t aware of what I was going through, but my family lived it real-time, so they were the ones who really suffered.

“When I came home, I felt scared. I was in a wheelchair. I hadn’t been able to talk for ages. I had to learn how to walk again. I couldn’t breathe properly, I couldn’t get out of bed.

“I feel really good now. I feel strong. I can run, I can work out, my lungs are clear. When I was in the ICU, my lungs were shutting down and my organs were failing. To come out of that relatively unscathed, I’m very lucky.

“I think it’s fantastic that drugs are now available to treat COVID-19 patients on the NHS. I’m proud to be part of a trial that helped find them.”