Bristol Hospital president and CEO returns to work after recovering from coronavirus, plans to donate plasma

By The Bristol Press

April 10, 2020

Bristol Health President and CEO Kurt Barwis returned to the hospital Thursday after working from home since March 31, when he tested positive for coronavirus, and plans on donating plasma to help someone else with the virus.

After leaving work on March 27, a Friday, the hospital president said he began to feel ill that night. It started with a bad headache and, soon thereafter, brought on a cough as well. Then later, Barwis said, “My whole body ached.”

By the weekend, “I struggled.”

By Sunday night, Barwis realized his illness was not like anything he had felt before.

“This doesn’t feel like any time I’ve had the flu or a cold before,” he said he thought to himself, at which point he called the medical director of emergency medicine at the hospital.

The determination was then made that Barwis would be tested for COVID-19 the next morning. Later that day, he received the positive result.

By the following Thursday, Barwis said he was mostly symptom-free. He had lost his sense of taste by the middle of that week, which he said didn’t come back until the last several days. One thing he found bizarre was the absence of a fever during the entirety of the illness, as that has been one of the most talked about indicators of the virus.

Barwis encourages anyone who feels ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to contact a physician.

“I think you need to call your doctor,” he said.

A doctor is the only one who can take someone’s health condition into account and make the determination if an individual should be tested, Barwis said.

“No matter what, you should be screened,” he said.

Returning to work, the one thing that really stuck out to Barwis, he said, was the change in the way hospital workers feel about their ability to provide care amid the pandemic.

“I’ve never seen that kind of anxiety or worry,” Barwis said of his staff when he made his way around the hospital on March 27 before heading home for what he thought would only be the weekend.

When making his rounds of the hospital, the president and CEO said, he had to ask questions like “Do you feel safe?” or “Do you feel prepared?”

When he asked those same questions on Thursday, he noticed a dramatic shift in people’s feelings.

“Oh no, we got this,” staff told Barwis. “We have this. We feel supported. We feel comfortable taking care of these patients.”

He called it nothing short of “amazing” how quickly the feelings of healthcare workers at the hospital changed within a few weeks.

“What an amazing, heroic team we have,” Barwis said.

Barwis - who was able to return to work after meeting the state’s Department of Public Health criteria for healthcare workers - said he plans on helping others by donating plasma.

“I am absolutely going to be a plasma donor,” he said.

He hopes to help someone who “maybe isn’t as lucky as I was.”

“That’s incredible,” Barwis said of the idea that his plasma could help save someone’s life.