Demetria Leverett had been a respiratory therapist for 21 years before COVID-19 struck our nation. When the virus first hit Northeast Florida, she felt scared. This was something she had not seen before. Demetria had experienced caring for patients with the flu or tuberculosis, but this was different. It was the fear of the unknown.

Fast forward to two months later, she asks herself "why did I worry about it?" Gowning up in personal protective equipment (PPE) to go from patient room to patient room is now second nature. "Now I can get dressed quickly, I feel safe and I'm able to do my job." Initially she had so many questions, and now she gets joy from seeing the patients who beat the virus and are now doing fabulous. "Those are the moments that make a difference for me," said Demetria.

"I have had some teary days, patients can be very alert even though they can't breathe." Seeing patients not have their family there to comfort them with a touch has been difficult for Demetria. "It tugs at you and you have to have compassion and understanding."

"I treat my patients the way I want to be treated if that was me in that bed," she says. "I always smile, act polite and ask them if they need anything."

Unless someone has experienced a respiratory illness in a hospital setting, the general public does not typically know what respiratory therapists do. After COVID-19, everyone knows. "We're part of the team, in a big way, not just giving a breathing treatment but actually helping maintain something that's vital and important and that's your airway," said Demetria.

"Looking back to where we were in the beginning of this until now, it has been a learning curve. It changes every day and we're learning and adapting. I feel like we're doing a great job in the ICU. I feel supported by my team and my heart loves being in the ICU. We're a great team."

Family also helps Demetria get through the days. "Family is an amazing thing. I am very blessed to have a very supportive husband and family to go home to."