‘I can’t fail Mary’: the bereaved man fighting for pregnant women threatened by Covid | World news

Before the pandemic struck, Ernest Boateng and his wife, Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, were planning for the future. She was expecting their second child and – after her maternity leave – wanted to become a specialist diabetes nurse; he hoped to join the RAF.

But as the coronavirus tore through the UK, Agyeiwaa Agyapong became ill. On 7 April she was admitted to Luton and Dunstable university hospital, where she worked as a nurse, with shortness of breath. She tested positive for coronavirus and was taken to theatre for an emergency caesarean. Her baby, five weeks early, was born alive. But after five days in intensive care, the 28-year-old died. Boateng was alone, with a premature daughter and two-year-old son to look after.

“I was completely lost,” he says, speaking from his home in Luton, his daughter, Mary, gurgling in his arms. “I had this lovely, cute baby girl, but her mum was not around, she was gone. I had to try and pick up from where we left off and just get on with the journey.”

For Boateng, that journey has meant becoming the sole carer for two young children – and, recently, a campaigner for expectant couples. Last week he wrote to Boris Johnson, urging the prime minister to make it a legal requirement for employers to allow all pregnant women who pass 20 weeks gestation to work from home or be suspended on full pay.

“Being a campaigner is not something I ever saw myself doing,” Boateng says. “But now it’s become part of my story, part of my life. Pregnant women need to be protected – I don’t want any family to have to go through the kind of trauma me and my kids are going through.”

Bedfordshire hospitals NHS foundation trust said Agyeiwaa Agyapong was signed off sick with pregnancy-related issues on 12 March and was not treating coronavirus patients beforehand. She was “a fabulous nurse, and a great example of what we stand for”, said trust’s chief executive, David Carter. A full inquest into her death is due to start this March.

It has been eight months since her death, but some days Boateng still struggles to believe she has gone. “Sometimes it comes as a shock to me,” he says. “When I’m just by myself, sometimes I just ask myself – is she really dead? Is she really gone? Is that how this world is? Something I’ve not been able to fully deal with the fact that she’s gone from this life and that’s it.”

Without thinking, without questioning, and through sheer necessity he has thrown himself into looking after their children. “I don’t know how I do it, but I just do it,” he says. “I don’t have a plan, I don’t have any book that I’m referring to. The only thing that keeps me going is that I love my kids. I am all they have got now. And I have to give them my best, I can’t fail them. And

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