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Roberta Place worker who contracted COVID eager to return to work someday soon

'A lot of people are telling me, ‘Why don’t you look for another career?' I tell them I really love working with the residents,' says Neil Orpilla

Neil Orpilla is rarin’ and ready to get back to the job he loves doing: helping people.

But his body isn’t letting him do that anytime soon.

Orpilla, a personal support worker (PSW) at Roberta Place, is at home recovering after contracting the COVID-19 virus shortly after the outbreak was declared Jan. 8 by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

He had only been working at the Essa Road facility for a short time when he tested positive, after initially testing negative, so Orpilla and his wife were both admitted to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH). She came home after five days and he was discharged after nine days, on Feb. 4, complete with a 24-hour daily supply of oxygen.

The oxygen may be out of the picture now  and has been since about April 21  but Orpilla says challenges remain, including problems with his vision and a heaviness in his chest.

“I just had my MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) last week and my doctor told me I had a mild stroke with my left eye,” he tells BarrieToday from his home.

Orpilla was to have an appointment with an eye specialist on Friday (April 30).

“And I’m losing my hair,” Orpilla says, adding it’s probably related to stress.

With plenty of health specialist appointments under his belt already and more on the way, he could be excused for being stressed.

“I’m worried about how I’m feeling right now. I don’t know when I’ll be good,” says Orpilla, adding he gets strength from different places, not the least of which is his wife, Estrella.

“We are always praying together, reading the Bible together everyday. Since we came home from the hospital, we’re watching the Sunday church service,” Orpilla says. “We don’t lose hope because we always pray, you know. God loves us very much, I can say that.

“My family, and especially my wife, are really supporting me a lot and so are my friends. They’re always asking how we are and giving us food. Friends from the United States are calling and asking how I’m doing," he adds. 

So are his counterparts at Roberta Place.

“A lot of my colleagues are waiting for me to come back. Even though I am new, they are looking forward to seeing me again,” Orpilla says. “I’m so happy to hear that and that they’re happy to work with me.”

Despite contracting a disease that has killed nearly 25,000 people in Canada  tragically, many at Roberta Place, with 71 deaths linked to the facility's outbreak  he wants to return to work when his health allows.

“I would love to. A lot of people are telling me, ‘Why don’t you look for another career?' I tell them I really love working with the residents,” Orpilla says.

“I’m ready in my mind (to go back to work). Emotionally, I guess it’s OK and spiritually yes. But physically, no. I have to take more time because of my situation right now. You can’t really work at 100 per cent if you are having any problems.”

His dedication to helping the elderly comes from a place close to his heart.

“I was out of the country at the time when my mom and dad passed away. So I never really had the chance to look after them,” says Orpilla, adding working with the residents fills a space for him.

“Maybe it’s a calling from God, something like that. Especially when I’m doing their care and talking to them, I just want to make sure that they are really taken care of. I just want to make them smile.”

Orpilla’s friends and co-workers are helping him make ends meet. To help with the Orpilla GoFundMe, click here.