Sue Aldridge is a kind, self-deprecating lady who has made a career out of helping others. As the manager of Penberthy, a residential home run by Cornwall Care in Newquay, she has been working night and day with her equally devoted team to keep COVID-19 at bay. There have been no cases to date in the 34-bed home and, for someone who knows only too well how devastating losing loved ones to the virus can be, that’s a huge relief.
Sue has lost both her mum, Jean, 76, and her brother, Ian, 48, to the deadly disease. She last saw them in early March when she and her husband, Alan, went to visit them in the Midlands after Jean was hospitalised following a fall. The couple were able to take her back home to Willenhall where she lived with husband, Pete, and son Ian, who had lifelong disabilities.
Sue and Alan returned to St Columb Major in Cornwall, but Jean had several more falls, necessitating further hospital treatment. Not long afterwards, she caught the virus and very sadly died. Ian tragically caught it too.
“My mum was a star in our lives,” said Sue. “No-one was ever more loving or happy. She really was a joy.
“I’m one of eight because, when Mum and Dad met, Mum already had two children and Dad had three. We’ve never thought of each other as anything other than family. Dad’s first wife left two weeks after giving birth to Ian, their youngest child, and, for the first three years of his life, Ian was in a home. My Mum went and got him when she and Dad married and I remember her introducing Ian to me as my new brother when I was seven. I instantly fell in love with him.
“Mum was a born nurturer and it was magic watching her with Ian. The only consolation in all this is that they are together. Amazingly, Dad never caught the virus and neither did my sister and niece who live nearby and were visiting regularly.”
Lockdown restrictions meant Sue had to watch her mother and brother’s funerals online.
“We obviously wanted to be there, but it just wasn’t possible, so we made the best of it,” she said.
Devastated by what has happened, Sue, who has two daughters and three grandchildren, was nevertheless keen to get back to work.
“Ian died on the Friday and I was back at work on the Wednesday,” she said. “Anne Thomas (CEO of Cornwall Care) and Richard (Nixon-Eckersall, Director of Workforce and Organisational Development) have both been incredibly supportive, sending me a huge bouquet of flowers and telling me not to go back until I felt ready, but I really wanted to. It’s given me something to think about and the whole team have been fantastic. We work very closely together, trust each other implicitly and our residents mean the world to us. We’re being very strict about who we let into Penberthy – basically only staff, GPs and paramedics.
“I know from first-hand experience what it means to lose people you love dearly to this horrible virus and am determined to do as much as I can to keep everyone safe.”
Sue is telling her story because she understands all too well how lethal COVID-19 can be and, with restrictions being relaxed in the next few weeks, wants others to guard against complacency.
“We’re not out of the woods yet and there is a real danger of another peak if we aren’t very careful. It really frustrates me when I see people breaking the rules. As a grandmother, I know how hard it is not to hug your grandchildren and to have to stay apart. But I also know how horrible it is to lose a mum and brother in very quick succession. The guidelines are in place to help save lives. Flouting them risks even greater grief and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”