WEST Cork couple Aidan Coffey and Lorna Kelly, who are both doctors, have flown home from New Zealand to help join the right against COVID-19 in Ireland.
They moved to New Zealand in 2017 to work in general medicine in the Waikato Distict Health Boad in Hamilton.
But when they heard of the severity of the outbreak in Ireland, they immediately booked flights home to “help the war effort” and returned to Cork on Tuesday.
“We were glued to the news about what was happening back home,” Dr Coffey said. “Something like this has never happened in Ireland before and now, all we wanted to do was get back to help the war effort against the virus.
“It was really inspiring to see what other people were doing to help the country and we wanted to be a part of that.”
“There has been a knot in my stomach ever since things kicked off,” Dr Coffey explained. “I’d been so worried for my family and friends back home. I was also worried about how the healthcare system would cope with the pressures the virus would bring.
“Hearing about the thousands of people who were made redundant was also very scary.”
The couple were originally supposed to come home in July to finish off their medical training.
“Our original plan was to finish up working here in a few weeks and go travelling until the summer,” says Dr Coffey.
“When we heard about what was happening at home and the severity of the outbreak, we made it our priority to get home as soon as possible.
“We went into work one morning and got told that we could finish that afternoon if we wanted too. We did and booked our flights back to Cork when we went home.
When I spoke to Dr Coffey in New Zealand before he flew back, he told me: “Everything has happened so fast. At the moment we are packing up our life here and saying goodbye to our friends, knowing that we might never be back in New Zealand.
“It is very sad leaving because of the memories we have made, but coming home is the right decision over what is happening and what we are able to do with our training.”
In just seven days, more than 40,000 people responded to a massive recruitment drive by the HSE to tackle the spread of the virus, which called on all healthcare professionals not already working in the public health service to register to be on call.
“Coming back, to us, is very little to do with actually coming home,” said Dr Coffey, “It’s all about working and being able to help people. Not everyone will be in a position to come home and help out. They shouldn’t feel guilty because they are going to do so much good work where they are in the world.”
Dr Coffey, who was originally a volunteer with the Red Cross before studying medicine at UCC, said this is a situation he has been preparing for all his life and he does not feel intimidated by the challenges ahead.
“When you’re training to be a doctor, this is what you are preparing for. Things are going to be tough on the wards, but that does not put me off. Ideally, this is the kind of situation that you don’t want to be in, but for my own career this is really exciting.”
The hospital where the couple were both working in New Zealand was the same size as Cork University Hospital “so that gives us a good understanding of what we are coming back to in Cork”.
The couple have also urged people to keep following the emergency measures that have been introduced and to continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Everyone knows that this situation is terrible and it will be like this for a while. The thing, though, is that no-one knows how long this will last.
“By people working together and following the governmental guidelines, they can make a difference. This is not just about nurses and doctors. Everyone has a role to play in the fight against COVID-19.
“As cheesy as this sounds, the lengths that people are going to for one another at the moment would really restore your faith in humanity.
“Irish people are wonderful for pulling together and helping one another. I’m so proud of everyone at home getting behind this cause and we are so excited now to get home and do our part.
“We just hope that our story makes people feel a little bit better about what is happening at the moment. People need happy stories at the moment.
“Hearing that people are coming home to help Ireland in the fight against COVID-19 would really give people a boost.”