'Mary was a blessing to everyone she came across'

Mary Boateng's friends have raised over £129,000 in memory of the Luton nurse whose life was claimed by coronavirus just after giving birth

Mary on her wedding day
Mary on her wedding day Credit: Facebook

On the morning of March 12th, Mary Boateng came off her final night shift on a general ward at Luton and Dunstable Hospital. Thirty four weeks pregnant, she was going home to begin her maternity leave. She’d been having back trouble, so had been permitted to go off sick two weeks early. Less than a month later she would be back at the hospital not to show off her new baby girl to colleagues, but to fight for her life.

While Mary was preparing for the arrival of her second baby at home with her husband, Ernest and three-year-old son AJ, she began exhibiting coronavirus symptoms. On April 5th she returned to the hospital where she had worked as a general nurse for five years, and was given a swab test which confirmed she was infected. She was admitted on April 7th, and it is understood the decision was made quickly to perform an emergency caesarean. She died on Easter Sunday, and the little girl who had been delivered safely was named Mary, for the mother she would never meet.

A healthy 28-year-old with no known prior health conditions, Mary’s is among those coronavirus deaths that have sent shudders through the nation and raised serious questions about the safety of pregnant women working on the frontline of the crisis.

Just four days after Mary went on maternity leave, the government issued guidance that pregnant women should be listed as vulnerable workers, and stop working in patient-facing roles after they hit 28 weeks. It is thought Mary was six weeks further on than that by the time she went on maternity leave, though at the time Luton and Dunstable only had a handful of Covid cases, and sources say she had had no direct contact with them. The hospital insists it has followed the guidelines throughout.

“It is highly likely,” a hospital source said, “that she contracted the disease in the community and not in the hospital.”

A source told The Sun that Mary’s father died of what is suspected to have been the virus the day after his daughter was admitted to hospital.

At the modest house just a stone’s throw from the hospital where Mary worked and died, the curtains are drawn. Her husband, 30, an aspiring barrister who has himself worked in healthcare, comes to the window. “I can’t talk,” Ernest says gently. “I’m in self-isolation.”

Mary during her placement when training to be a nurse Credit: Facebook

The couple, who were married in 2017, had moved from a flat in central Luton to a neat little house nearer the hospital last autumn. Neighbours told how they used to see Mary “going off to work in her uniform”, or out and about “with their little boy”. “What a tragedy,” said one. “She was a lovely woman.”

Mary’s Facebook page is filled with pictures and messages which portray a kind soul who was deeply religious and who loved her family. “God did an amazing thing on Saturday,” she wrote shortly after her wedding. “I can’t even begin to explain the joy I feel in my heart. Let me just say a big thank you.”

“To the most amazing husband,” she added, “I truly love and cherish you.”

A close friend of the couple described Mary’s husband’s deep sadness. “It is quite devastating for everybody,” he said, adding that Mr Boateng “appreciates the help” the public have offered him through their donations. “He wants to be able to keep quiet for now and just go through the grief.”

Mary was a British citizen but spent her early years in Ghana. She is thought to have lived in the UK for at least a decade, in which time she trained as a nurse at the University of Bedfordshire, graduated, met her husband, got married and had a their little boy. Among the pictures of the smiling young woman in a cap and gown, the beautiful bride and proud mother which pepper her Facebook page, there should have been a new set of family photos of Mary with her baby girl.

Over £129,000 has now been raised in Mary’s memory by her friends Rhoda Asiedu, Gloria Gyan and Wendy Addai. “Mary was a blessing to everyone she came across and her love, care and sincerity will be irreplaceable,” Rhoda said.

“It is humane for us to take care of [her family] in every way we can during this heavy and trying time. The funds raised would be a starting point to support them financially.”

Mary on her graduation day Credit: Facebook

As the donations flooded in this week, devastated former colleagues told how she “devoted her life to the NHS”. “Sister Mary was my colleague,” said fellow nurse Renai McInerney. “I worked alongside her for a few years. She deserves her family to be looked after she devoted her life to the NHS as a nurse.”

“Mary and I completed our nursing training together - she was a wonderful kind person - always smiling!” said friend Siobhan Doran.

David Carter, chief executive of Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, described her as “a highly valued and loved member of our team, a fantastic nurse and a great example”.

The official guidance on pregnant women working is under constant review. A source at the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said that while their guidance is clear that “pregnant women should not work with suspected or confirmed cases”, they had heard of some women “being pressurised to work or feeling pressurised to work and we are as a result looking to strengthen our guidance”.

Joeli Brearley, from pressure group Pregnant Then Screwed, says 34 per cent of pregnant NHS workers had been found to be working in environments where they feel unsafe due to Covid-19 exposure. “The research shows a further 15 per cent of pregnant NHS and care workers have been suspended from work on incorrect terms. This includes being forced to start their maternity leave early, being made to take unpaid or annual leave or being told to claim statutory sick pay even though they are not unwell.

“Before 28 weeks pregnant, the guidance talks a lot about choice,” Brearley adds. “Nurses should have choice about whether they work or not. The problem with that is of course pregnant women want to be helping out in a crisis. But they’re also anxious about what it will do to them and their baby if they get Covid-19.

“We have found that often they’re not getting any choice at all, their managers are gaslighting them and saying there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be working before 28 weeks. You’re going to have to like it or lump it.”

Evidence from early studies of coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses suggests only a small added risk to pregnant women who become infected, caused by a reduction in lung capacity due to the increased size of the baby, which can cause breathing difficulties for the mother. There remains no evidence that babies can become infected in the womb. But Professor Marian Knight, who runs the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) at the University of Oxford and is compiling data on the risks to pregnant woman posed by Covid-19, stressed: “Prevention in this case remains better than the cure which is why we are stressing the need for social distancing for pregnant women.”

Women in their third trimester should, she urges, “avoid contact with anyone with symptoms of coronavirus, and significantly reduce unnecessary social contact”.

It is not yet known where Mary contracted the virus, or indeed whether the little girl named after her brave mother is healthy. But as donations in her memory continue to flood in, her friends thanked those who had dug deep as Mary would have.

A typical nurse, Mary, they say, “would have reached out to anyone in need without hesitation”.

Click here to donate to the Go Fund Me

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