Larry White, a respiratory therapist at UK Hospital, outside the hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — In mid-February, Dr. Peter Morris and fellow University of Kentucky faculty members attended the Society of Critical Care Congress in Orlando, Fla. While there, they saw a presentation linked to Wuhan, China, in which intensive care providers spoke about the coronavirus crisis as it was taking hold.

“And you just got a gut feeling after listening to them — even though the reports might have been technical at the time — you could hear in their voices the strain and the volume of what they were seeing,” Morris said recently. “I remember leaving one meeting after a session like that and it was pretty sobering. People were quiet. And many of us thought, ‘This is a freight train. It’s coming.’”

The coronavirus freight train did come, right to Central Kentucky where Morris, chief of pulmonary and critical care at the UK Hospital, along with respiratory therapist Larry White, are among those dealing hands-on with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis.

He has seen pandemics before, but COVID-19 is an especially hard virus on the lungs. Those who test positive often experience breathing difficulties to the point where some are intubated and placed on ventilators.

“In the ICU now, the people that we are seeing who are testing positive really don’t require anything different than what we’ve been providing for years for people in terms of the care and the support of their organs,” Morris said. “What’s different is there are a lot of them and they’re really, really sick.”

“In the work that Larry and I and our colleagues do, we see a lot of illness,” Morris said. “But to see it in a short time period with so many younger people, this is really something.”

Not surprising, but very gratifying is what Morris has seen from those who work in the critical care unit.

“They’re incredibly brave,” Morris said. “I think I would put it as the equivalent of people running into a burning house to save someone.”