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Reader’s Corner: “How supporting Sunderland helped my family through its battle with COVID”

Even in the worst of times - particularly this last year or so, with the Coronavirus pandemic - supporting Sunderland has brought together families and, importantly, has given them hope. Here’s Hannah’s story.

“The Place We Used To Love”
Chris Cummings

With the case numbers declining, the vaccination drive well underway and a light (hopefully) starting to appear at the end of the tunnel that is the COVID-19 Pandemic, I thought now might be a good time to talk about my family’s experience with Coronavirus and how Sunderland helped to pull us through our darkest moment.

Like so many families, we unfortunately have experienced firsthand just how much this virus can impact your life. For us it was just after Christmas, the 28th December to be exact, that my grandad was taken into hospital due to a non-Covid related issue – or so we thought. He tested positive for Coronavirus that day plunging our entire family into quarantine after having popped in to see both him and my Gran at Christmas. To cut a long story of transmission and testing short, the whole family soon ended up testing positive and before long we had four family members in hospital; my Grandad, my Gran, my Uncle and my Dad.

Again, to cut a long and extremely stressful story short, my Uncle and Dad, who both suffer from MS, ended up in the ICU and my Grandad placed under a DNR order as we were told for him “it’s only a matter of time.”

Things got worse still as on January 15th we got the call we’d dreaded from the moment my Dad was taken away in the back of an ambulance: he was being put on a ventilator.

What followed were the longest, most terrifying 11 days of my life as we waited to see if he would pull through. I didn’t know at the time but the doctors had given him only a 32% chance of survival.

Then the next day something weird happened. Sunderland won. Actually, that’s probably an understatement. We battered AFC Wimbledon 3-0. That might not seem such a strange occurrence now what with us being unbeaten in our last 11 games in all competitions but this was way before that. It was the first sign, since the 4-0 victory at Lincoln, that showed what we were capable of doing under Lee Johnson. It was also the game in which the goal machine that is Charlie Wyke scored a hattrick.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

So, I did what I normally do when I’m not able to watch the match together with my dad – I text him the score. Only this time, a message of “I love you, keep fighting” was tacked onto the end.

Now I’m not an idiot. I knew he couldn’t read it. He’d just been put into a medically induced coma. But still, I did it anyway because I hoped that one day he’d be able to and I knew that when he did wake up, he’d want to know how his beloved Sunderland had been getting on.

This quickly became a trend and something that gave us all a bit of comfort and something to do when we weren’t sat by the phone waiting for an update from the hospital. We’d watch the match and then I would text him about how we got on. We actually got the nurses at the hospital to tell him whenever Sunderland won (and whenever Newcastle lost) in the hopes that he would hear and be spurred on to wake up because if there’s one thing we all know it’s that we can’t take a Sunderland win for granted.

This even continued when he was moved from Sunderland Royal to the RVI due to bed shortages (although I have to admit that the Geordie Nurses were a bit more reluctant than the Mackems had been).

Our friends and other family kept telling us how unlucky we were that this had happened to us. I actually believe the opposite. That’s because on January 26th, my dad woke up. Typically, we didn’t win the first match after he woke up. Not that my dad realised. He was still on so much medication that he fell asleep before Gillingham’s 90th-minute equaliser courtesy of Jordan Graham.

Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

He got out of hospital on February 5th. Again, as is typically Sunderland, we seemed incapable of winning when he was finally home to watch the Lads on the telly. A 2-2 draw away to MK Dons followed by a 2-1 defeat at Shrewsbury had us joking that he was some sort of bad luck charm and we were sending him back into hospital so we could return to winning ways in the League.

As it is, everyone knows what happened following our defeat to Shrewsbury. We haven’t been beaten since. So I suppose we’ll allow him to remain at home.

As for the rest of the family, my Uncle, Gran and Grandad all recovered and are now also out of hospital.

I guess what I’m trying to convey is how much this experience, as traumatic as it was, highlighted how much this club truly means to me and my family. Recently for Mother’s Day, myself, my sister and my dad clubbed together and bought my mam a Chris Cummings painting called “The Place We Used To Love.” I think it perfectly sums up not only the relationship between her and her dad who used to take her to the match, but the relationship between me and my dad who takes me to the match and who, thankfully, will still be around to take me to many more when this whole ordeal finally comes to an end.