A family who lost a mother and her two sons to Covid-19 have been targeted by trolls on social media, claiming that the virus is a hoax.
Grandmother Gladys Lewis, 74, from Pentre, South Wales, died at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital on October 29.
Her son Dean Lewis, 44, was found unresponsive at his home in nearby Treorchy the following day and pronounced dead a short time later.
On Monday, younger brother Darren, 42, died following treatment in intensive care at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital.
All three had tested positive for coronavirus before they died and their death certificates state Covid-19 as the cause.
But after news of the tragedy was published online, some social media users commented that Mrs Lewis and her sons had not died from coronavirus.
Others asked what underlying health conditions they had, with some suggesting their diet and lifestyle had been a factor in the deaths.
Claire Lewis, 44, the wife of Dean Lewis, told Channel 4 News: “I just wish people would wise up and think again, because at the end of the day, no one expects to bury their family to this.
“Everyone that thinks it’s a big joke and in a big conspiracy theory needs to just wise up and listen.”
She described how the family, including Dean’s three children, had been left “broken” by the deaths.
“The comments we have seen I try to blank out as much as possible because people are cruel,” she said.
“There have been some amazing comments where people have given us support and even strangers have said how heartfelt they are.
“But for the people who are trolling – I just feel sorry for you because I hope it doesn’t happen to you.”
David Lewis, 81, the father of Dean and Darren and husband of 44 years to Mrs Lewis, called for people to “believe this is real”.
When asked about people who claim it is a hoax, Mr Lewis told Channel 4 News: “They want to pull themselves together because if they lose what we’ve lost, then they will suffer.
“Do everything you can to keep safe. Just don’t do anything that will put your family at risk because it’s not worth it.”
Debbie Mountjoy, 41, the daughter of Mrs Lewis and sister to Dean and Darren, said the comments on social media “break our hearts”.
“We’ve had a few people saying ‘oh they didn’t die of Covid, they’re just putting it on their certificate as Covid’,” Mrs Mountjoy told Channel 4 News.
“They 100% died of Covid-19 and for people that are saying they didn’t, that’s untrue and it hurts us.
“I just hope none of them have to go through anything like what we and hundreds and thousands of other families have had to go through with Covid-19.
“I hope it doesn’t affect them because I think they’d feel some guilt.”
Mrs Mountjoy added: “They want to spend a couple of minutes with me, my dad, Claire, Claire’s children and my children to see the devastation that we are going through as a family.
“Spend five minutes with us and they’ll know it’s real.”
Darren, who had Down’s syndrome, had not left his home since February apart from to attend hospital appointments.
Mrs Lewis, who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, had also been shielding, with Dean only going out once a week to shop for his parents.
“We were scared of the virus anyway,” Mrs Mountjoy said.
“But now we are absolutely terrified and I’m so scared because of losing the three of them that I’m going to lose my dad or somebody else.”
The family are unsure how Mrs Lewis and her sons caught Covid-19 but say it was through community, rather than hospital, transmission.
Ten other members of the family, including Mrs Mountjoy, Mr Lewis and Claire Lewis, also tested positive for coronavirus and have been self-isolating.
Mrs Lewis developed symptoms of Covid-19 around a week before her death and was admitted to hospital on October 25, four days before she died.
Dean Lewis tested positive after his mother was taken to hospital. He was found unresponsive by his wife at 9.30am on October 30.
Both she and Mrs Mountjoy – who had held her mother’s hand as she died the previous day – performed CPR on Dean for 20 minutes until paramedics arrived but he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Darren Lewis was admitted to the Royal Glamorgan Hospital after becoming unwell and was later transferred to the intensive care unit.
“He was doing OK and we thought he was going to pull through it and then the same night, he had gone,” Mr Lewis said.
The family were unable to be with Darren when he died as they had tested positive for Covid-19 and were in self-isolation.
They praised hospital staff for their “absolutely amazing” care and said they “can’t thank them enough”.
“As Darren passed, we were able to phone to say our goodbyes,” Mrs Mountjoy said.
“They put the phone by his ear so we could tell him that we loved him and he was so strong and we were proud of him.”
Mr Lewis described his wife as a “wonderful woman” who was a devoted mother, grandmother-of-13 and great-grandmother-of-four.
When asked about Dean and Darren, Mr Lewis told Channel 4 News: “What can a father say when he’s lost two sons? I love them so much.
“It’s devastating. I don’t know how I’m going to get through it.”
Mrs Mountjoy described her mother as “the best mother and grandmother anyone could ask for”, while Claire Lewis told how Dean had a “heart of gold” and adored his family.
Darren was “the most lovable, happy man”, the family said.
The three funerals will take place at the same church, with donations in aid of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital.
A GoFundMe page to help pay for the funeral costs has been set up at www.gofundme.com/f/carrrg-help-towards-funeral-costs.