12 January 2021

For almost a year, Erica Donnelly has been shielding to protect herself from coronavirus.

As a cystic fibrosis (CF) patient she is considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ from SARS-Cov-2 infection, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.

CF is a genetic condition which, like coronavirus, affects the lungs and their ability to function correctly. Even before 2020, it was essential that people with CF wore masks in hospital settings and took precautions to distance themselves from others with the disease as they were more susceptible to infection.

Erica and many people in a similar situation to her have taken shielding incredibly seriously, meaning there isn’t much data about how people with conditions on the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ list react to the virus.

But that daunting prospect recently became reality for Erica who described having COVID-19 alongside CF as ‘unimaginable’. 

Erica Donnelly in her hospital bed.jpg

Erica was put on mechanical ventilation in a coronavirus ward at Royal Papworth Hospital


She started to feel unwell a week ago and was brought straight to Royal Papworth Hospital - where she is treated for her ongoing CF care - from her home in Southend, needing ventilator support to improve her falling oxygen levels. 

“I have never felt so scared,” she said, “but at the same time I have never had so much love, support and care.

“I’ve been shielding for almost a year and although my partner works he is mainly based outside and has been very, very careful. We have been ok until now but this new strain of coronavirus is so much more transmissible and it is finding those previously harder to reach people, like us, even despite all the precautions we take.

'I had to fight back' 

“I got very sick and was blue-lighted in an ambulance from my home in Southend to Royal Papworth Hospital. At my worst moment I said to one of the nurses ‘is this it?’ I had to fight back and thankfully I have had the best care and although I have a way to go I am improving.

“I’m tired just from eating but I’m grateful to be recovering and know for other families the outcome won’t be as good. I can’t put into words how thankful I am to be at Royal Papworth Hospital. My doctor Helen Barker, one of the nurses, Nick, and all the staff who have looked after me have been absolutely amazing.

“My plea would be that people really need to do more than what they are doing to control the virus. We have been so careful and it still got us, so please everyone, act like you have the virus and follow the guidelines.”