A respiratory physiologist at the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) has praised her incredible colleagues for inspiring her to get back to work after she suffered from long covid.

Luvis Barbarcena, who was admitted to the RFH in January 2021 with COVID-19, said it was thanks to the encouragement of staff that she was able to return to her job.

Every year Luvis succumbed to a bad chest infection but COVID-19 was much worse than anything she’d experienced before. Her symptoms included headaches, a sore throat, endless coughing and struggling to breathe. Finally her GP recommended she call for an ambulance and Luvis was taken the RFH’s emergency department, before being admitted to the 9th floor, which had been transformed into a dedicated COVID-19 ward.

Throughout Luvis’s stay, colleagues from the RFH respiratory team sent cards and made sure they stayed in contact with her. 

Luvis said: “That meant so much to me, it really gave me a lift and I’m sure contributed to my recovery. I really couldn’t have a finer work ‘family’. They showed such kindness and I felt so valued.

“While I was in hospital I wanted to show my gratitude by enrolling in a number of clinical trials run by the team – so hopefully, in a small way, I would have helped them with their work.”

Finally Luvis’s oxygen levels were deemed safe enough for her to be discharged. However, at home, she was still struggling with shortness of breath, coughing and fatigue and it was to be a long battle back to health - one she is still fighting.

Luvis said: “I ended up being signed off work for a further 12 weeks and even when I returned to work I sometimes encountered some brain fog completing tasks I had once done without thinking. Now I really had to focus my mind to recall the information I needed, although thankfully that has improved over time.

“Even now though I still struggle with my breathing and often wear a mask as I do still cough a lot. I’m stubborn and I like to think of myself as healthy as I walk a lot and take care of myself. But I do think that there was some long term damage.”

“Despite my struggles, I really didn’t want to retire early,” said Luvis. “I had an idea in my head of when I wanted to finish work and I didn’t want to leave before my time. Having said that I might have done so were it not for my wonderful colleagues and patients.

“Our department is really busy and I wanted to come back and support everyone, particularly because of the care and support they gave to me when I was ill. I have also built up a brilliant relationship with our patients over the years and I wanted to keep working with them for a bit longer.”

Now after more than three decades at the RFH supporting patients suffering with a variety of breathing issues Luvis, 65, is finally retiring.

Luvis, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, says she is looking forward to doing more yoga, pilates and taking part in volunteering and learning a musical instrument. 

She said: “I live so close and I love to walk everywhere, especially on the heath so I’m sure I’ll bump into lots of staff there!”

Pic: Luvis (pictured centre) with her team on receiving her Recognition of Contribution Upon Retirement certificate from the trust.