DURING the Covid-19 pandemic, the hallmarks of heroism have been routinely exemplified by healthcare workers who have sacrificed their own safety as they have sought to help others.
Each Thursday, the nation came out to applaud their efforts. And, for several weeks, staff at East Surrey Hospital stood outside the main entrance, praying for one of their own.
Peter Hart was an emergency-care practitioner and paramedic. Like so many, he was forced to make the transition from member of staff to seriously ill patient at the hospital where he worked.
“We were on the street with neighbours, clapping,” his daughter, Lauren, said, “and my phone started going off with all these notifications. It just filled us with emotion, because we knew how many people were really rooting for him.”
But Peter was not just the father of his children: he was also their colleague. His son, Daniel, was working as a doctor at the same hospital, and Lauren was running the reception desk in A&E. An accident of fate in Accident and Emergency.
BUT it was not always this way.
Peter read biology at King’s College London, and then developed a successful career as a management consultant.
“I think he’d always been interested in the medical profession,” his wife, Helen, explained. “And I think he was sidetracked, and started working at Proctor & Gamble.”
Despite several lucrative career moves, he became increasingly dissatisfied. “He couldn’t really help himself,” Helen said. “He was just always wanting to offer a hand. He just wanted to serve others. He didn’t talk about his faith — he lived it.”
He decided to walk away from management consultancy, and retrained as a paramedic. “I’m not complaining,” Helen said. “But, as you can imagine, our income went down. Yet Pete’s happiness and contentment soared.”
The Chief Executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, Michael Wilson, said that he had known Peter for ten years, and was proud to call him a colleague. “His priority was always the care of our patients, and this would shine through at all times,” he said.
Peter and Helen had met through the orchestra and choir at All Souls’, Langham Place, in central London. Helen described their first meeting.
“I drove into car park at a venue where we were performing. He walked up to the window and surprised me with an overly friendly greeting. His huge smiley face invaded my personal space. Looking back, I didn’t really stand a chance!”
An emergency-care practitioner during the week, a double-bass player at weekends, a loving husband and father of three children at all times in between. Until 12 April.
He had been working additional shifts, like many during the pandemic, when he suddenly became sick. “He said that he felt as though he’d been hit by five buses,” Helen said. “He was breathing five times as quickly as myself, and he couldn’t get up.”
He was soon in the familiar surroundings of his workplace — this time, as a desperately sick patient. “It became more and more apparent that his body was just not coping,” Lauren explained.
“They couldn’t get the carbon dioxide out of his blood, and his numbers were just getting worse,” Daniel said.
LAST month, after 30 days on a ventilator, Peter died, on his 52nd birthday.
The funeral procession last week was given the honour of a police guard, such was the esteem in which he was held.
The hearse, led by a lone piper and the hospital lead chaplain, the Revd Stanley Njoka, moved slowly towards the ambulance bay, as hundreds of colleagues, friends, and fellow musicians crowded the pavements. It paused for a minute’s silence, before making its way to the crematorium.
The hospital had arranged for us to secure the best vantage point to film, and, about an hour before the hearse arrived, the chaplain came to greet us. “John, chapter 15, verse 13,” he said.
Shamed by my lack of biblical knowledge, he recited the text. “Greater love has no man than this — that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Heroic love for others. That was Peter Hart.
Martin Bashir is a journalist and the BBC’s religion editor.