'We're not promised tomorrow': COVID-19 reflections one year later from doctors, patients

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It has been one year since Governor Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and hospitals and health systems across the state had to pivot to take care of their patients.

Robin Featherstone's emotions make all the sense in the world. The Durham mother successfully recovered after a month-long battle with COVID-19.

"It's important to live life to the fullest," she said. "This year was unlike any other. I think we've learned to never ask: Can it get any worse?"

Featherstone, the director of student activities and leadership at Shaw University, contracted the virus last March.

"I thank God every day that I'm here and sometimes when I'm by myself I get a little emotional," Robin said behind tears. To this day, she stills deals with aches and pains from time to time.

When she was at her worst, she went to Duke University Hospital where Dr. Cameron Wolfe has been at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19.

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After being quarantined from her family for nearly a month due to battling the novel coronavirus, a Durham woman is finally able to reunite and hug her 9-year-old son again.

The infectious diseases specialist originally spoke with ABC11 in January of 2020 when a person with Wake County's first possible COVID-19 patient passed through RDU International Airport.

At the time, Dr. Wolfe hypothesized the virus wasn't much to be concerned with.

"Some of it is right in hindsight and some of it is wrong and maybe that's to be expected," he said. "We're better for it but I just wish we didn't have to go through so much tumult to get this point but we'll come out of it in a better spot."

Dr. Wolfe said there was no way of knowing there could be a significant spread from an asymptomatic person.

"We had no idea that this would be such an inflammatory condition," Dr. Wolfe said. "There's no other parallel to that in the respiratory viral world that's why there was such a difference when it comes to mortality."

He wishes there had been more faith in public health members from the get-go. He also feels a national control of the message would've helped.

Dr. Jason Mock agrees. He's a critical care physician at UNC Hospitals and an assistant professor of medicine at UNC School of Medicine.

"It's been trying and I think it's taken an emotional toll too," Mock said. "It's been very challenging: working non-stop, the adaptive process of taking care of patients, early on we had minimal PPE."

Dr. Mock said early on there were missteps when identifying therapeutics for the virus. However, time has proven they can do rigorous clinical trials during a pandemic. For Mock, the pandemic also unmasked significant health disparities in the LatinX and Black communities.

He also believes telehealth is here to stay for the long term but it can never replace the intimate visit with a patient, "Returning to normal will be us being able to interact with patients and their families face-to-face: that will be the sign for me that we've crossed a barrier to get back to more normalcy."

For Robin, the year has brought her closer with her family meaning more time for Sunday dinners, Taco Tuesdays and so on. She also noted that she is down 20 pounds.

"Just understanding how we're not promised tomorrow," she said.

After experiencing the virus firsthand, Robin has gotten her vaccine and she's encouraging others to do so too.
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