Helen Leon had spent a quarter of a century enjoying her work teaching English in a secondary school in Cornwall. However, her career, health and finances were suddenly pulled from under her when she contracted Covid-19.

“I taught English for 25 years and I loved my job. I loved the kids I taught. I was rated as an outstanding teacher by Ofsted, and steadily had excellent exam results. On March 16th 2020, I stayed late after school to go over literature texts with some wobbly GCSE students. I’d brought in doughnuts and we had a lovely time. I didn’t know then it was the last time I would ever teach any kind of lesson.”

Helen Leon-Long Covid sufferer

Just days into the first national lockdown in March 2020, Helen began experiencing Covid symptoms. At that time she was a mild asthmatic and was advised to work from home, but as her husband was extremely clinically vulnerable she decided to decamp to her father’s empty cottage, 25 miles away up a dirt track, to protect him.

After experiencing a very sudden high temperature she was told to isolate by NHS111. As the days passed her condition deteriorated until on Easter Monday she was taken to hospital.

Helen recalls numerous nights of being unable to lie down or sleep as she struggled to breathe. “I remember sitting up as breathing became harder, drinking water, telling the virus that I was going to win this battle.

But by the early morning of Easter Monday 2020 I was unable to breathe without real difficulty so I called NHS111. I was assessed and an ambulance sent out as my breathing continued to deteriorate. The nurse stayed on the line with me, as the ambulance couldn’t make it up the track. She waited on the line until the paramedics arrived, finding their way with torches. I will never forget what it felt like, seeing their lights. Just as I will never forget the nurse advising me kindly to make phone calls to my family at 1 am in case I was taken into ICU, and became unable to tell them what was happening to me.”

What followed was a further six months of serious ill health which included a further admission to hospital, two blackouts, extreme fatigue, night sweats, skin rashes, numbness and pins and needles down the left side of her body. Helen was diagnosed with acute asthma and placed on daily medication which has helped with the frightening attacks of breathlessness she has experienced since contracting Covid.

After being signed off work when she became ill, Helen took the difficult decision in January 2021 to take early retirement at the age of 57, due to the state of her health.

“I decided I had to take early retirement, at least seven years before I would have even considered it pre Covid. My pension halved and our financial future is now very different. I loved my work with teenagers and couldn’t imagine what life would be like without that buzz of lovely positive teenage energy.”

While Helen’s health is now slowly recovering, she is concerned about the hidden impact on teachers experiencing Long Covid, often without the support they need.

“Seeing the number of colleagues ill with Covid, some of whom will go on to develop Long Covid, is heart-breaking. We need greater recognition and support for teachers with Long Covid so we don’t lose more teachers like me to the profession.

“Schools also need proper air filtration and isolation for contacts - and I passionately believe that we need to challenge the narrative that staff sickness is just an obstacle to keeping schools open at all costs.

“We need to say that teachers’ lives and long term health matter, because our wellbeing matters and we should not be put at risk from unsafe workplaces.”