When a Midland A&E consultant arrived in Italy for a relaxing break to celebrate his wife’s birthday, he had no idea that just six hours later he would be fighting for his life at the hospital where he has worked for 20 years.
Jonah Rizkalla’s right lung had failed and his left only had 20 per cent capacity when he arrived at Sandwell General Hospital, in West Bromwich, just hours after he had flown into Rome on July 7.
Mr Rizkalla, who returned to work this week and is known as JR by staff at the hospital, had enjoyed “a couple of hours” touring Rome and the Vatican City but was struggling to breathe.
The 62-year-old consultant, who lives in Sutton Coldfield, confessed to his wife Elham, a medical secretary at City Hospital, in Birmingham, he felt very ill and she convinced him they should fly back to Birmingham immediately.
He said: “I had been suffering from a persistent cough for a couple of weeks, and was feeling a little run down, so my wife suggested we take a short break and visit the Vatican City.
“I had no idea this was anything serious because I’ve never been ill before, so to be honest I just shrugged it off and decided a last minute getaway was a good idea.
“Apart from my cough, all was well when we arrived and so we wandered around taking in the sights, but a few hours later I felt awful and knew I needed medical treatment.”
When the couple arrived back in Birmingham, Mr Rizkalla went straight to Sandwell’s A&E where he had a chest X-ray that revealed he had bilateral pneumonia, so he was rushed into intensive care, where he spent a week fighting for his life.
During his first day in ITU, he received more than 90 visitors, including A&E consultants from Heartlands, Solihull, Selly Oak, New Cross and Queen Elizabeth hospitals, until a strict ban was enforced limiting his visitors to his wife, their son Nagy and his priest.
“It was only afterwards that I learned that it was touch and go for me, because I wasn’t really aware of what was going on,” added Mr Rizkalla.
“My son had been travelling in the States and had been calling every half hour, but had no luck, so he boarded a plane from San Francisco to be with me at the hospital. Apparently he arrived and just dumped his bags in reception and came up to see me.
“He’s my only son, my only child, and so it was the thought of seeing him graduate from Birmingham University that kept me going.
“However, the timing was not good, as I was still in intensive care on the eve of the ceremony, and it just seemed there was no hope.
“Nagy followed me into the medical profession, and so it was right that I should be there to see him graduate.”
But friends and colleague were keen to help him, so fellow A&E consultant Dwight McLeod co-ordinated the day to enable him to see his son graduate on July 14.
“That was my dream, and I am indebted to Dwight because he picked up Elham, Nagy and got everything to run so smoothly, I will never for get that,” added Mr Rizkalla. “But I would urge people, if they do feel unwell, to be sure they see their GP and get some medical advice, because it’s very easy to neglect yourself like I did if you think it’s nothing – so don’t be afraid to get things checked out.”