Former Timebank Trustee Poorna Gunasekera shares his story of recovering from COVID 19

“I have had the privilege of working for the medical school at the University of Plymouth from September 2012. In addition to helping train tomorrow’s doctors, I have also had the wonderful opportunity to engage with voluntary organisations in helping our students gain a first-hand understanding of the local community and its people. We consider this extremely important, as that sort of activity helps them understand how people encounter illness within the community and the support networks that make a real difference in such situations.

Plymouth is blessed with over 400 voluntary organisations. One of the most effective organisations I have had the privilege of working with is timebank South West; its director Liza Packer is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met in life. What impresses me most about the organisation is the way it focuses on what matters to each individual or community. That is exactly what we hope our own future health and social care professionals will focus on, when they qualify.

Plymouth University offers one of the widest range of health and social care courses found anywhere in the world. Its Faculty of Health has six schools, which prepares a fantastic array of future professionals, who have exclusive access to Derriford Hospital for their practical training. We had always believed that the unique experiences they gain by engaging with the community would help our graduates to be more person-centred practitioners. I came to experience that, first-hand, when I spent 11 days in Derriford Hospital after developing complications of Covid-19 infection.

I developed the first sign of the infection of the 20th of March 2020. My daughter and her boyfriend, who had come to spend a short holiday with me, also developed the signs almost at the same time. While they began to recover within a week or so, my situation became progressively weaker. By the time I was hospitalised on the 30th of March, I was breathless even when I was resting in bed. I also had developed a high fever. I have no doubt that if not for the expert care offered at Derriford, which included 8 days in the high intensity ‘Red Zone’ I would not have survived to share this tale.

During my time at Derriford, I would have been treated by at least 40 healthcare professionals from all disciplines, including doctors, nurses and healthcare workers, most of whom had trained at the University of Plymouth. As a retired doctor who had worked in 3 continents, I can honestly say that they were among the very best professionals I had ever seen in life. Not only did they perform their duties expertly, they did so in the most friendly, caring manner possible. Even though their entire body was covered in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), they had the amazing ability to smile and connect with me through their eyes, which was the only visible part of their body. I knew then that our belief of training a special generation of health and social care practitioners was completely justified.

I have recently been appointed as the Associate Dean (International) for the Faculty of Health. Part of my duties will be to raise the international profile of our faculty, which already attracts students and staff from a vast array of countries. My message to any prospective student, as much as the residents of Plymouth, is simple.

I would say, with my hand on my heart, “there are many places throughout the world where one can train for a career in health and social care practice. They may all offer very good levels of expert training. However, those training at the University of Plymouth gain something more, that few others places can even dream of offering. Our trainees learn to relate with the public directly, from very early in their courses. With time, this helps develop into the kindest, friendliest, most caring practitioners anywhere in the world”.

We are all truly blessed to call Derrifod our ‘local hospital’.

One of the ways in which our students get to engage with the community is through a voluntary organisation called MegaReach. Even now, when most of the world is in lockdown, MegaReach Facebook page is getting people to share their life experiences in an effort to motivate one another. You too may have an inspirational story to share. Please do take a look at our Facebook page and get involved. We would love to hear from you”.
Poorna Gunasekera (PG)