During the global pandemic, medical workers are putting their lives on the line to fight the battle against COVID-19. Dr Kirsten Riley, a Medical Officer in the Burns Unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital not only fights COVID-19 but also her own personal health challenges.

She was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in January, and had to go through a series of treatments and surgeries alone as her family was not allowed to be with her during the initial levels of lockdown.

“Cancer is such a difficult condition to manage already, both physically and emotionally, which is made even worse by social isolation,” she said.

But she chose not to let it get her down. She continues to work hard to save the lives of her little patients at the hospital, all with a smile on her face.

“I have always loved working with kids, their unbridled happiness has always been inspiring, even when they’re at their sickest, they have a joy that will make even the harshest of people smile,” she said.

When asked how she copes with her own physical and mental health while doing the difficult job she does, she praised her family and colleagues.

“I have a wonderful support system, both at home and at work. A cup of coffee and a chat with work colleagues does wonders! Then getting home, and no matter how tough of a day I’ve had, being hugged by my daughter makes everything in the world seem right! My husband is also my rock, he knows how tough this job can be but supports me through it all,” she added.

She added that the kids at the hospital inspire her. “I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them! These kids have gone through some of the worst injuries imaginable but have a happiness and kindness in them that is just inspiring. If they can do it, so can I!”

Riley also said the pandemic has a huge social impact on the children, and that wearing masks can sometimes be a scary experience for them.

“We can’t see each other’s faces anymore and it seems as if everyone is cold and unapproachable. This is incredibly scary for kids who are already in an unfamiliar environment and just need to see a friendly face. I’m looking forward to the day when we can all see laughter and joy on each other’s faces again.”

Riley added that members of the public can show their support for the sacrifices healthcare workers make on a daily basis, by adhering to the rules of social distancing and wearing your mask appropriately.

“You help us by staying safe and healthy,” she concluded.

Picture: Supplied

Article written by

Anita Froneman