I’m belting out opera songs to make my coronavirus patients smile – but fear other scared Brits are dying alone at home – The Sun

STANDING in the middle of a busy A&E department, Dr Alex Aldren takes a deep breath then belts out a famous opera song about hope through his protective mask.

It's an extraordinary scene – yet it's just another working day for the heroic frontline doctor, who has spent the past six weeks cheering up terrified coronavirus patients with his singing voice.

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Opera singer Alex, 30, returned to the NHS frontline last month to help fight COVID-19, which has killed more than 20,000 Brits, including a 13-year-old boy and a pregnant nurse.

But while he's been saving lives at virus-hit London hospitals, he hasn't allowed his musical talent to go to waste – with video footage of Alex serenading his medical colleagues recently going viral.

Patients really enjoy it – they don’t expect to be serenaded when they come into hospital!

Now, the doctor has revealed how he's also been singing to sick patients to lift their spirits – while tackling a pandemic that's tearing families apart and has killed fellow NHS medics.

"I’ve been working in A&E so that’s where I’ve been singing," says Alex, who has backed The Sun's Who Cares Wins Appeal to raise £1 million for NHS staff fighting on the frontline. 

"People really enjoy it – it’s not really what they expect when they come into hospital.

"Patients' relatives will also often pop out of rooms to see what the Hell is going on. I’m quite loud so they can normally hear me through the doors anyway!"

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Giving patients hope

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, A&E departments across the UK have been split into hot and cold zones – for suspected COVID-19 patients and non-COVID-19 patients.

But from broken limbs to breathlessness, Alex says he sings to all patients.

"I’ll sing all sorts of things – classical musical numbers, whatever," he adds. 

"Puccini's 'Nessun Dorma' is often requested because it’s an amazing song. It’s all about triumphing so it’s obviously inspired a lot of people recently from Italy and all over the world."

Alex, affectionately dubbed 'Dr Opera' by his colleagues, grew up surrounded by both music and medicine, with his dad working as a doctor and his mum, a violinist.

Following in his father's footsteps, he trained in medicine for six years, at the University of Birmingham, before joining The Royal London Hospital in Tower Hamlets. 

By this point, he'd already fallen in love with opera – and would often bellow out songs to patients.

"It’s something I’ve always done, especially at Christmas," Alex recalls.

"A lot of patients are so bored – some are sitting on wards for weeks.

"There’s no entertainment or anything."

I sang to an elderly chap with quite bad dementia… he just completely transformed. He was clapping and singing along

He adds: "Once, a mate of mine was working on the elderly care ward. And he said, 'Oh mate, I’ve got an old opera singer on my ward, you’ve got to come and sing to him'.

"He was a chap who had quite bad dementia and he was really elderly. I met him and sang to him and he just completely transformed. He was clapping and singing along.

"That was a really special moment."

From medicine to music

After two years at The Royal London, Alex decided to leave the medical profession to become a tenor.

"As funny as it sounds, I felt like I could do more good with my singing than I could in medicine. I just felt like it was my calling – it's what I was meant to do," he recalls.

"I felt I could spread more joy to more people."

Alex joined the Royal Academy of Music, graduating in March last year, before embarking on his opera career – landing roles at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and venues across the globe.

But when COVID-19 struck, all of his singing work was cancelled.

Now, Alex is among nearly 20,000 fully qualified staff who have selflessly returned to the NHS frontline to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, after a call was put out for more doctors.

"It’s a real privilege to be on the front line because most people are sitting at home, scared, frustrated and wanting to help, but being told the best thing they can do is stay at home," he says.

"The Sun campaign is a fantastic thing. We’re so lucky in this country to have an NHS. We need to look after it and make sure it's a top priority. It’s such a treasure."

We’re so lucky in this country to have an NHS. We need to look after it and make sure it’s a top priority. It’s such a treasure

Today, Alex is working 12-hour shifts at The Royal London, Newham and Whipps Cross hospitals, where he's switched his opera costumes for sweltering PPE (personal protective equipment).

He examines suspected coronavirus patients when they come into A&E, assessing how breathless they are and whether they need to be admitted to hospital to boost their oxygen levels.

While some struggling patients make remarkable recoveries after being ventilated, others sadly die. And because coronavirus is a new disease, doctors can only guess which patients will make it.

"It does feel a little bit like being at war," Alex admits.

"We’re facing this new threat that nobody’s ever seen before.

He adds: "I recently saw a really lovely couple who were both really unwell.

"One ended up on intensive care. She’s still alive and hopefully will recover but it’s heartwrenching seeing loved ones in together and being so concerned for their partner as well as themselves."

Dying Brits 'refusing to go to A&E'

Worryingly, Alex says NHS staff fear other Brits suffering from heart attacks and other medical emergencies are dying at home because they're reluctant to go to A&E amid the crisis.

"A week ago, it was completely mad, there were so many people coming in," he says.

"This week, it’s been a little bit quieter.

"The consultants are worried that people are taking the 'stay at home' method a bit too literally. We’re worried that people are having heart attacks and strokes but aren’t coming in.

"If you are really concerned and are really sick, it’s important that you do come into hospital."

NHS heroes still smiling

For Alex, one positive during the pandemic is the morale of his NHS colleagues – who continue to put their patients first and perform their duties with a smile, while risking their own lives.

"It’s obviously a scary time – we don’t know how much risk we’re at," says the doctor, who is currently staying with his girlfriend, his dad and his dad's partner in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

"There are all these stories of healthcare workers dying and we all have our loved ones at home.

"The PPE is also very hot – it’s like working in the desert."

Alex himself showed off his own great spirits earlier this month, when he was filmed serenading his colleagues during a quiet moment at Newham Hospital, while dressed in scrubs.

“Somebody asked me where I worked normally and I said, 'As an opera singer," he recalls.

"And they said, 'Wait a minute! Come on, prove it!"

The footage of his impressive performance was later shared on Twitter, captioned "Music can heal the wounds which medicine cannot touch", where it has been viewed 163,000 times.

A couple of weeks ago, Alex showed off his singing talent again – this time, on Front Room Friday LIVE, a new TV-style entertainment show which uncovers NHS frontline talent every fortnight.

The programme, which continues on Friday, sees five entertainers perform 10-minute sets live online – while supporting local businesses by recommending restaurants that offer home delivery.

It also encourages viewers to donate to NHS Charities Together and Age UK.

"The aim is to entertain and uplift people in the UK and around the world, while supporting the freelance industry, local businesses, and raise money for charitable causes and our frontline services at the same time," says Front Room Friday LIVE co-founder Emily Newstead.

For Alex, it was another chance to do what he loves most, while helping others.

But it certainly won't be the last, as he plans to keep serenading patients in hospital – whether they're in A&E with a broken arm, or taking their final breaths on the coronavirus isolation ward.

"If anybody wants me to sing, I’ll sing," he says. 

"I love doing it so much."

  • Front Room Friday LIVE continues on Friday, May 1, on YouTube and Facebook via @frontroomfridaylive. For more information, click here


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