Pub landlord raises thousands of pounds for coronavirus patients as wife lies critically ill with Covid-19

From James Bond, to Abba’s Agnetha Fältskog, to Danny Zuko from Grease. Over the past month, Toby Morgan has played all these characters, garnering support from around the world for his fundraising efforts for coronavirus patients.

By Elise Brewerton
Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 10:38 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th May 2020, 10:39 am
The sign for Donna Morgan at the Victoria Inn pub, West Marden.
The sign for Donna Morgan at the Victoria Inn pub, West Marden.

The 54-year-old landlord of the popular Victoria Inn pub, near Rowlands Castle, has thrown himself into putting on elaborate stunts on Thursday nights to coincide with the clap for carers, so far raising an incredible £75,000 – £31,000 in cash and the rest in gifts for NHS staff, care homes, hospices, GP surgeries and schools.

And he has a very important reason for doing so.

Just a few miles down the road in St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, his beloved wife Donna lies gravely ill with Covid-19.

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Donna Morgan, who has coronavirus, and Toby Morgan of The Victoria Inn, West Marden, West Sussex

He has not seen her since March 20 when she was taken to hospital by paramedics, unable to breathe. Just days later she was put into an induced coma. Since then her lungs have collapsed and she has faced many challenges. She has been in St Richard’s longer than any other coronavirus patient.

But after ‘sleeping through the whole of April’ there are green shoots of hope as she is finally being weaned off the most powerful ventilator and out of the coma.

Toby says: ‘She has actually turned a bit of a corner, it’s good news. Three weeks ago they pretty much told me she was going to die. She’s 52, young, fit, healthy.

‘There’s nothing wrong with her apart from the damage she has got to her lungs. And because of that, the medical team said, “we’re not done yet”.

Toby Morgan dressed as James Bond.

‘It is taking some time to wean her off sedation as she has been given a whole smorgasbord of drugs, and you can’t wake someone up from that in five minutes.’

Not being able to see Donna has been agony for Toby and their three children – Amy, a student nurse, and Cameron, a farmer, who are both from Donna’s previous marriage, and Charles, a university student, Donna and Toby’s son together.

But they have now video-called with the help of nurses.

‘She can’t speak but she can open and close her eyes and gesture with her hands’ says Toby. ‘It was very surreal.

Toby Morgan donating blood in a bid to find a cure for coronavirus

‘Throughout this process I have been sending her voice clips on WhatsApp which the nurses have been playing to her. It’s physiotherapy for the brain. Normally loved ones would be by the bedside but that can’t happen.

‘The staff are all wearing PPE so when she did wake up all she could see was a couple of eyes behind a mask.

‘The medical staff show caring with their faces usually, even if the patients can’t hear them. But they can’t even do that now because they’re covered and it’s very tough on them.’

There are pictures all around Donna’s bed of her family, friends and her beloved Labradors, Gina and Tonic. Movingly, back at the pub, the dogs wait at the window looking out for her every day.

Toby has been alone at the pub the couple have run since 2011, since Donna fell ill. He too had Covid-19 and, after self-isolating for two weeks, he set to work launching the #ComeonDonna campaign to give something back to the outstanding medics looking after his wife.

He says: ‘There was nothing I could do about Donna, she is in the best possible place. The level of care she is receiving is amazing.

‘But I can damn well do something to look after all the people who are looking after her. They are so humble even though working in a Covid ward is like a war zone.’

Goodie bags worth thousands of pounds were put together for them but they asked Toby if he could divert funds elsewhere – to offer Covid-19 patients psychological, emotional, physical, practical and financial support.

Toby has used the Thursday night clap for carers to put on elaborate displays outside the pub based on legendary parties they’ve thrown at the popular country watering hole.

The first Thursday he dressed up as James Bond, complete with a speed boat.

The next it was a scene from Mama Mia – complete with Agnetha’s blonde locks.

And last Thursday it was Grease, complete with a T-Bird leather jacket. Neighbours in the tiny village have joined him, with a local farmer and his wife pulling on a tuxedo and bikini, respectively. A friend in South Africa even recreated the famous Halle Berry scene from Die Another Day.

There are plans to recreate scenes from Pulp Fiction and The Italian Job in the coming weeks.

While it has managed to take Toby’s mind off his wife’s desperate situation for a few hours every day, in general life has become a nightmare.

He has had to negotiate the red tape of financial day-to-day aspects of their life which Donna handled, and the harsh reality of having to repeat, over and over again, every single day, the words ‘My wife can’t give me the password because she’s in a coma in intensive care’.

Some infuriating phone calls to banks and car lease companies have lasted up to three hours, with Toby still no further forward.

He is in a vicious circle of wanting to pay Donna’s bills, and joint bills in her name, but not being able to because he is not the account holder.

He says: ‘There will be many Donnas and Tobys out there in our situation and I want to help them. These companies should be prepared. This is a terrible situation to be in.’

His hope is that some of the money he has raised will go towards helping other coronavirus survivors get back on their feet financially and provide this service from intensive care units around the country.

He is just as determined to reach £200,000 as he is that Donna will come home.

In the meantime, Donna's DNA has been taken for research into why the virus impacts some people more than others.

And Toby himself has donated blood to be used in convalescent plasma therapy in which plasma from someone who has recovered from the disease is used to improve clinical symptoms in sufferers.

He says: ‘I can’t possibly tell you what the future is going to look like because I don’t think I’ve got my head around it.

‘We know she is not coming out any time soon. While in ICU you lose five per cent muscle mass per day. She is going to have to be taught how to sit up by herself, how to walk.

‘Her rehabilitation is going to take a long time. But the important thing is they are talking about recovery now, rather than her not being with us.’

Toby cannot praise the staff of St Richard’s highly enough. ‘They have just been incredible’, he says.

The family hold weekly video conferences with consultants and are always kept in the loop.

And while he waits for Donna to return home and start pulling pints again, his aim is to help others in his family’s situation.

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