Communities Heroes: Local respiratory therapist traveled to New York to treat COVID-19 patients

Community Heroes

(WJHL) — Many people took cover during the COVID-19 pandemic, or at the very least took extra precautions to stay safe. But there were some who traveled to New York to work at a hospital with an astronomically high number of infection rates and people hospitalized.

Our community hero Elizabeth Balluff was one of them.

New York City hospitals were inundated with people suffering from symptoms. Respiratory therapist Elizabeth Balluff was compelled to help.

“I thought about being able to tell my grandchildren one day about what happened, and that I was able to help,” she said. “But mainly, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. And I wanted to help.”

In January, Balluff applied, and within two weeks, she was on her way to a Brooklyn hospital for a three-month stay, working 13-hour shifts six days a week.

“I was there to relieve respiratory therapists that are in charge of mechanical ventilation, managing that, stabilizing patients, intubations, patients that were critically ill. I was there to relieve the staff that had been there all year,” she says.

And Balluff’s group was welcomed with open arms.

“They were very burned out, they were exhausted,” she recalled. “They hadn’t had any vacation time in the past year.”

As a respiratory therapist, she saw the worst cases, and there were a lot of them.

“Husbands and wives that were dying the same day, or within days of each other,” Balluff said. “Just the gravity of the number of patients that were critically ill was hard for me to even comprehend.”

The assignment wasn’t without its high points.

“I loved the people I worked with. I”m still in touch with some. I also worked with people from all over the world,” Balluff said.

She says working in a hospital that was hardest hit by COVID made her appreciate the life she has in East Tennessee.

“Appreciation for my health, number one, appreciation for my family, a large appreciation for the area we live in and the community we have here, but just how fragile life is and how quickly things can change,” she said.

Balluff points out that COVID brought to light the importance of respiratory therapists and their extensive medical and mechanical training. She says the position, which is a specialty of cardiopulmonary science, is often overlooked.

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