Frontline workers continue to put their lives at risk as they care for COVID-19 patients and it's especially true for healthcare workers who have pre-existing conditions.
At Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, a respiratory therapist named Breanna Pierce, continues to show up to work everyday even though she herself has a chronic lung disease.
“I’m not the type of person to sit at home and do nothing. I went to school for this and now more than ever respiratory therapists are important and they’re needed more than ever right now," said Pierce who is 26-years-old.
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Pierce has cystic fibrosis, it's a genetic disease that causes lung infections and issues breathing.
She takes breathing treatments several times a day, before, during and after work. Pierce also takes about 55 pills a day to help with cystic fibrosis.
What's worrisome for Pierce is the fact the symptoms of a lung infection mirror that of the coronavirus. She's had scares but received negative test results.
“I know if I catch this, it could potentially kill me, it’s very stressful, it’s something I think about daily," said Peirce.
“Breanna Pierce’s strength is an inspiration to everyone here and should be to everyone who hears her story,” said hospital President Jim Parobek in a statement. “She is one of the many caregivers at Texas Health Dallas who regularly give far more than could ever be expected. We take employee safety very seriously. We make sure our team members are supported with education and personal protective equipment. Employees with pre-existing conditions are encouraged to work in areas with a decreased risk of exposure.”
She usually doesn't work with COVID-19 patients and swaps with her colleagues, but sometimes it's hard to avoid. She said sometimes patients will come in without any symptoms, but will later test positive.
"All of my coworkers are really supportive and really good, they normally take the COVID patients from me and I don’t really see them. Lately, we’ve been really short-staffed, so I have seen them on occasion within the last two weeks," she said.
Pierce said doctors and her family have suggested that she take a leave of absence due to the pandemic, but her passion for helping others and her colleagues motivates her to continue working.
"I just see how hard everyone I work with is working and we’re all stressed and I just want to help do my part," she said.
The 26-year-old, who was also born at the hospital she works at, said she can relate to her patients because she understands what it feels like to not be able to catch one's breath and the anxiety that comes from it.
To protect herself outside of work, she's not visiting with family and friends to minimize her exposure to COVID-19.
"It’s just pretty mind-blowing how it affects everyone so differently -- like you meet people who had it and are okay, and what we’re seeing in the hospital is obviously, these patients aren’t okay," explained Pierce who said she hopes people start to take the virus seriously. "