Respiratory therapist quits job in Norfolk to fight New York’s crippling COVID-19 death toll

Posted at 3:47 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 06:28:00-04

NORFOLK, Va.— As coronavirus caseloads skyrocket nationwide, New York is reporting its deadliest day since the outbreak began, with 731 deaths in the past 24 hours. This brings the state’s total up to 5,489 deaths so far.

The unrelenting demand for healthcare professionals in New York prompted a respiratory therapist in Norfolk to lend a helping hand at a time when the state needs it the most.

Darla Grese has been a respiratory therapist for nearly 17 years, and before that she served in the Navy as a hospital corpsman for six years. She says she’s never witnessed anything like the COVID-19 crisis.

“I don’t know how you cannot be scared. I am absolutely nervous,” says Grese.

She is filled with fear, but she’s overflowing with courage.

“I don’t know how I could not go help— it’s just what I have to do.”

Monday she resigned from her job at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, leaving behind the friendships she’s built over the course of nearly two decades, knowing it would be the end but also the beginning of a new journey.

“New York and these bigger cities were getting killed, and the staff members - they need a rest and so I thought, 'You know, if we’re on the slower end [in Norfolk], thankfully, there’s really nothing stopping me from going up there and helping them out.'"

She leaves this weekend for six weeks, working 12.5-hour days, seven days a week in a New York hospital overrun by coronavirus cases.

“The closer I get to leaving, the more anxious I become. Of course it’s scary, and to sit here and say I’m Superwoman and I’m not going to get sick and it’s just going to go fabulous... well, that’s just not realistic.”

It’s going to be grueling mentally and physically, not just for herself but for the family she leaves behind: A 12-year-old son who’s never been apart from her for more than a week and a supportive wife who’s still worried about the worst of what could happen.

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"She doesn’t want me to get sick because getting sick is bad enough, but then when you’re away from each other by seven or eight hours and then on top of that you can’t see each other even if you are in the same state."

Grese may not know what will happen next, but she knows she’s needed, and that’s enough.

She’s asking anyone with medical training who is interested in becoming a contracted employee to help take on the coronavirus crisis to reach out to her through email at

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