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Virginia Beach respiratory therapist back home after whirlwind trip to New York, Miami

Darla Grese recounted what it was like to help fight COVID-19 in New York City and Miami. She said to take it from her: the virus is real and people are dying.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Darla Grese is back home with her family including her wife and son after spending months on the road traveling to COVID-19 hotspots as a respiratory therapist. Through the whole process, she shared her story of how watching countless people draw their last breaths profoundly changed her.

“You cannot go do something like this and not be changed forever,” Grese explained.

Grese selflessly sacrificed her health to help others. She made the decision in April to quit her job as a respiratory therapist at a Sentara hospital and leave her family behind to go on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. She spent her time in New York and in Miami.

“It’s a very emotional, stressful scary thing to experience. This one (Miami) shook me a little bit," Grese said. "I spent three months in New York, and I came home for a couple of weeks and then headed to Miami. It has been quite the experience and quite the whirlwind.”

She said Miami was harder than New York for her. The patients were younger and she was able to connect with them, which she said made her job more difficult.

“They were afraid of going on a ventilator is such a scary thing,” she explained. “You hear scary stories that when you go in the ICU, you’re not going to come out. To know you are you need life support, even though you tell them it’s temporary. You know they are afraid, and you are too.”

She worked long days and nights. Grese said she started her morning around 4:40 a.m. and wouldn’t get into her bed until around 10 p.m.

“You’re so hot, you’re so tired. It’s so emotional. All these things fold up into one, you just figure it out,” Grese explained.

She said while the indents from wearing so much protective gear have gone away, she still carries the weight of what she saw in both New York and in Miami. Darla is back home and is enjoying the much-needed time with her wife and son. She was able to be home for his first day of virtual learning.

“My bags aren’t unpacked but I’m also relaxing," Grese said.

She said she plans on relaxing for as long as she can until the next hot spot calls for help. She urges people to continue wearing their masks to keep everyone safe. She said to take it from her -- the virus is real, and people are dying every day.