The UK has now become the European nation worst-hit by coronavirus, but there remains hope to be found in the many tales of recovery – and Hilary Scott heard one of them this week.

“I owe them my life” – the heartfelt tribute of Peebles man Keith Orr to the NHS staff who nursed him back to health after contracting coronavirus.

Incidentally, this was also the statement made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after surviving his brush with death. A stark reminder that the virus does not discriminate.

And that is just what Keith discovered when he, his wife Maxine, and friends celebrated his 70th birthday with a sun-drenched cruise.

They boarded the ship for the holiday of a lifetime and disembarked home with a deadly virus.

“We left on March 5 before the virus had impacted in Britain," said Keith, adding that the group enjoyed three days in the Caribbean, before sailing across the Atlantic and going on to destinations in the Mediterranean.

The COVID cloud then cast a dark shadow on their trip. “The authorities on Madeira would not let us disembark,” said Keith.

“And by that time the rest of the Mediterranean was closing down, so the decision was made to sail back to Southampton and transfer all passengers to their departure airport by bus.”

But they were far from safe harbour. “For us, that meant a 10-hour overnight journey during which we stopped at three service stations. We were encouraged to get off for a comfort break and to stretch our legs.”

The party returned home on Friday, March 20, but the nightmare had only just begun, explained Keith.

"A few days later, we were all starting to feel unwell," he said, with symptoms including headaches, temperature and fatigue.

“It is our opinion that we picked up the virus from one of the service stations – five out of seven of our party were infected.”

While Keith's friends recovered within a couple of weeks, he found himself in an ambulance.

After admission to the Borders General Hospital (BGH), he was confirmed as being positive for COVID-19.

“I was taken straight to the intensive care unit (ICU) where I was administered oxygen by CPAP ventilator, and treated for pneumonia.

"There is no treatment for COVID – you either pull through with the oxygen treatment, or you don't.

"I was very lucky the oxygen worked for me and after two days was transferred to a COVID ward elsewhere in the hospital to recover.”

The encouraging news proved to be short-lived.

“I spent a couple of days getting a little stronger, then started to feel breathless again. I was immediately given a CT scan which confirmed that I had blood clots in the lungs, which is apparently a common secondary, and treatment started.

“I was transferred to COVID High Dependency so that I could be monitored 24/7 and given oxygen by mask and eventually nasal probe until my lungs were capable of keeping my blood oxygen levels up to normal.”

With UK hospitals tightening restrictions on visiting, Keith didn’t get to see his family in the flesh until he was discharged.

“Thank heavens for modern technology," he said. “Having my phone and Kindle helped no end by being able to contact family and friends as often as I liked, so not having visitors was never really a problem.

“My daughters kept friends informed via Facebook and I was in a position to read the comments and well wishes as they came in, which kept me happy for hours.

"My thanks to them and to all the well wishers for taking the time to express their feelings – I am most grateful.”

Finally, 19 days after admission, Keith was allowed home – to the relief of wife Maxine and their daughters Nicola, Katy, and Caroline.

The former owner of Renwick and Weir Ltd says recovery is slow.

“I was really looking forward to getting home, but not until I got there did I realise just how weak I am.

"But a couple of weeks of good food and lots of sleep have really helped. I am still very weak but a little better every day – it's going to be a long recovery.”

Right now, Keith is grateful to be alive and says he owes his life to the staff at the BGH.

He has this message for them: “I would like to thank all staff in ICU, CV2, Ward 5 and COVID HD – I owe them my life.

"It's difficult to express just how much admiration I have for you all. From consultant to cleaners, you put your life on the line every single day you attend work.

"There is a choice there but I never once felt that you considered there was that choice – duty to your patients was always foremost.

"I have high respect and admiration for you all. Thank you very, very much.”

This week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed it is “very likely” that lockdown will be extended.

Keith urged people in Peeblesshire to keep following the official guidance.

He said: “I can't stress strongly enough how important this is – the virus is terrible. Believe me, you do not want to catch it.”

I asked him if there was a time he thought he wouldn’t make it. “When I arrived at the BGH, I was immediately attended by two doctors and a nurse inserting cannula lines and an arterial line with the intention of taking me straight to ICU, which they did. It was all quite frantic.

“I was immediately put on the CPAP to give me as much oxygen as quickly as possible.

"This was the point I was as close to dying as it gets, this is the point the oxygen either works or it doesn’t. Fortunately for me it did.

“So the simple answer to your question is no, I never doubted that I was going to be OK – I never felt fear.

"I had 100 per cent faith in the ability of the doctors and nurses who were treating me.

“But the more I hear about the virus, the more I feel lucky to be alive – having been so ill – and to have come out the other end.”

Keith arrived home having won his fight, but the things he once took for granted he now treasures.

“The first real pleasure was to see my wife again. I sat down in our family room and looked out over the blossoming spring garden to hear nothing but bird song – no planes, no cars. It was, and still is, blissful.

“We can’t meet up with the grandchildren, but even seeing them is a real treat.

"These things you take for granted until you no longer have them.”

Looking to the future, he said: “It’s been a horrendous rollercoaster of an illness. I’m so happy that the worst is over and the road to recovery lies before me.”

Keith wished to put on record his sincere, heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of those who have been lost.