'35, unvaccinated and in a coffin': Widower makes vaccine plea after wife dies after giving birth

Samantha Willis’s daughter Eviegrace baptised at her mother’s funeral

One of Samantha Willis’s daughters, Lilyanna, is carried into St Columb’s church, Derry, behind the coffin for the funeral of the mother of four from Strathfoyle who died with Covid-19 on Friday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

One of Samantha Willis’s daughters, Lilyanna, is carried into St Columb’s church, Derry, behind the coffin for the funeral of the mother of four from Strathfoyle who died with Covid-19 on Friday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

The funeral of a 35-year-old mother-of-four who died of Covid-19 two weeks after giving birth to a baby girl has taken place in Derry.

Samantha Willis’s daughter Eviegrace was baptised at her mother’s funeral at St Columb’s church on Monday.

Ms Willis, who had three other children, contracted Covid-19 and died in hospital on Friday.

She had not been vaccinated against Covid-19, and following her death her husband, Josh Willis, appealed on social media to anyone who had not yet done so to get the jab “so you or your family don’t have to go through what I have had to”.

“As I write this I am laying beside her, she is 35, unvaccinated and in a coffin. Let that sink in!” he wrote.

Fr Joe Clifford told mourners they were gathered “in sadness, in grief and in shock” and spoke of a “deep sadness that has wounded your hearts, it’s broken you”.

Ms Willis, he said, had been married in the same church 2½ years ago and it was “difficult to understand” what had happened. “Samantha birthed forth new life just days ago, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The baptism of Eviegrace at her mother’s funeral was about “acknowledging death and new life at the same time”. Sadness and joy were “interwoven”, he said, “but it’s never brought together as close as this”.

Mr Willis paid tribute to his wife on social media, describing her as a “wonderful, loving and caring person” who had been “our superhero the last few weeks. She is now our guardian angel.”

‘Strong fight’

He said he had lost “the love of my life, Samantha”, who had “put up a strong fight for the last 16 days but in the end it just wasn’t enough”.

“While in hospital she also had to deliver our newest addition to the family, who she has never met properly or held in her arms.

“I will make sure that Eviegrace will know all about the mother she will never meet,” he said. A GoFundMe page set up in her memory has already raised £8,000 (around €9,000).

Josh Willis with his newborn daughter Eviegrace, being carried by a relative, at the funeral of Samantha Willis at St Columb’s church, Derry. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Josh Willis with his newborn daughter Eviegrace, being carried by a relative, at the funeral of Samantha Willis at St Columb’s church, Derry. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

On Monday nine more deaths with Covid-19 were reported by Northern Ireland’s department of health and a further 1,320 people tested positive for the virus in the North.

According to the department’s figures 51 people with Covid-19 have died in the last seven days, compared with 30 the week before.

A total of 352 people with Covid-19 are receiving hospital treatment in the North, with 43 in intensive care.

The Fermanagh and Omagh area has the highest rate of infection in the UK, with an average of 1,046 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days, compared with a Northern Ireland average of 631.

The North’s minister for health, Robin Swann, told the BBC he did not believe the case numbers were “at that point yet” where it would become necessary to reintroduce tighter Covid-19 restrictions.

“The Executive meets again in the first week in September in regards to what’s still in place and what we’ll look at in regards to the next steps, and that’s where that decision will be made,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Swann said the vaccination programme had been “re-energised” by a weekend initiative to encourage more people to come forward for inoculation.

More than 12,000 people received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine as part of the “Big Jab Weekend” on August 21st and 22nd.