Leona O'Neill: Samantha Willis's legacy is queues at vaccination centres

When Derry care worker Samantha Willis died from Covid shortly after giving birth, her husband Josh spoke to the media about why she had been unvaccinated. The subsequent queues outside walk-in vaccination centres are proof that even in death Samantha has helped to save lives, writes Leona ONeill...

Samantha and Josh Willis on their wedding day

ANYONE who saw heartbroken widower Josh Willis on television last week talking about his beloved wife Samantha could hardly fail to be moved.

The 35-year-old Derry mum of four died of Covid two weeks ago after giving birth to their daughter. The care worker had been expecting her fourth child when she contracted coronavirus at the end of July. Like some pregnant mums, she hadn't been vaccinated because of concerns about the jabs and was holding out for the birth of her baby.

Tragically, she didn't get the chance to hold her new daughter Eviegrace. The little girl was born on August 5 while Samantha was in Intensive Care. What should have been a time of great family joy and celebration of new life turned to despair, grief and unspeakable loss when Samantha succumbed to Covid-19 on August 20.

I think anyone who read the stories last week found the scenes from Samantha's funeral terribly upsetting. Her little daughter christened at her mother's funeral. A beautiful life beginning and one ending so suddenly and cruelly. The pictures of her children, including her new born daughter being carried in arms behind her coffin, were tragic.

Her husband Josh very bravely decided to tell her story in the hope, he said, that no other family would have to navigate the raw and brutal heartache that his family were going through.

In a tweet from their home he spoke of how cruel life was, that he was beside his 35-year-old wife's coffin, that this is not how it should be, that the virus is still surging and urged people to get vaccinated.

He later spoke about how Samantha had not been vaccinated, that she followed early medical advice at the start of the pandemic regarding pregnancy and then, when that advice changed to urge all pregnant women to take the jab, the family decided that they had come this far and would wait until their baby was born to get vaccinated.

Josh told the Derry Journal that he had no right to tell anyone what to do regarding their own health but he knew that telling Samantha's story had encouraged others to get vaccinated.

"I can't advise people to take it but I'm telling her story so they can make up their own mind," he told the Journal.

"I've heard stories since the weekend that people have made up their minds after hearing her story, I'm sure those thousands of people who got vaccinated on Saturday and Sunday, some of them saw my Facebook post on the Friday night and the news breaking and that was enough to tip them over the edge to go and get it.

"I know one of her friends stood for three hours at Foyle Arena to get her first one."

There is no doubt that Samantha's tragic and truly heartbreaking death made an impact on those unsure about taking the vaccines. The story of the beautiful, bright, young, caring and utterly cherished young mother being taken by the virus brought home to a lot of people that this illness is cruel and heartless and doesn't care if you have your whole life ahead of you, or that you have children to look after.

Samantha's legacy is queues at vaccination centres the weekend her body came home to her family. Her legacy is first vaccines in the arms of those who previously thought they didn't want or need the jab. And her legacy will be keeping those people out of hospital and saving their families the heartache of perhaps losing them to this dreaded virus.

In life, Samantha was a devoted and dedicated care worker, and in death she has shone her light far and wide to help care for others. She will never be forgotten.

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