Maria Ioannou 5 2500

Maria Ioannou: the national team player working as a Covid-19 nurse

COVID-19 Player story

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Maria Ioannou 5 2500
  • Cypriot International and nurse Maria Ioannou was specially trained to help tackle the Coronavirus situation in her country, while continuing to play football
  • The Apollon Ladies FC player contracted COVID-19 herself
  • She experienced long term effects of the virus but still loves her job at the hospital

“Honestly, when I was coming to the end of my high school education, I was much more focused on football than on my studies. However, ten years ago there weren’t many opportunities for Cypriot women to play professionally, and I didn’t want to move abroad – so I had pick out an alternative career to support me while I played.

Nursing was always my first choice, as I liked to learn about the body and the physical nature of the work – so I really applied myself to it. The National team helped me to secure a place at the Cyprus University of Technology where I managed to pass all my exams with high marks. Then the PASP (Cypriot Players Association) arranged a discount for my tutorage at Frederik University – a percentage of which they paid, which was a huge help for my career development.

I started off working as a special care nurse in the private sector, but when the pandemic hit the government had to train 300 nurses so that they could assist on the COVID-19 wards. I have now been posted at the Nicosia Hospital for nine months, and although the job comes with its difficulties, I love it - and I am so grateful to have been able to expand my skill set in this way.

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I think with the vaccine starting to roll out people have started to relax around the idea of COVID-19, and perhaps I would be the same if I were in a different position. However, as a nurse I know that the situation in Cyprus is much worse than it was at the start of the year, and with the numbers rising every day - we just don’t have the beds to accommodate all patients.

I use my skills to do everything that I can, and sometimes the speed with which a case can progress to an emergency situation can be frightening; there can be a five to ten minute window where a human being’s life is in your hands and you have to put all of your training into action to ensure that they are safely intubated and able to breathe.

“Being a nurse defines me just as much as being a player (...), both of them are integral parts of my identity”

Unfortunately, there are always going to be situations that there’s nothing you can do. Seeing someone in your care die is tough to take, but you just can’t let yourself crumble – because there are so many more people depending on you. Sometimes I think about it on more personal terms, like what if this patient was my own mother, or grandmother and, rather than upsetting me, that gives me the emotional strength to be there for my patients; to do my utmost to save them and be there for them in the hardest moments as though they were my own family.

These moments, as difficult as they are, also bring out the very best part of my work. Just the feeling that the patient appreciates what you are doing for them – whether it’s as simple as fetching them some water, or as serious as taking them through an emergency intubation. When they thank me for my work and my efforts, it’s just the best feeling in the world – because I know that I’m making a real difference to people’s lives.

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I developed COVID myself at the end of 2020, before all the nurses had been vaccinated, and even as a fit, young athlete – I really felt the effects of the virus. I was physically ill over Christmas and New Year, and even once the virus had passed and I was back at work and in training, I wasn’t myself. I tired really easily and simply couldn’t play for a full 90 minutes, my lungs felt heavy anytime I exerted myself and I just couldn’t breathe as deeply as I was used to doing before I was infected.

Thankfully now I feel much healthier and more capable, but it took a good four months for me to get to where I am now, and at the end of the day we have no idea the long-term effects that a bout of Coronavirus could be doing to our bodies.

I’ve learned so much, not just from my specialist training, but from my time on the ward – where I think I’ve actually developed more as a nurse than I ever could in a classroom. Ten years ago, if you’d told me that I could be a professional footballer and not have to think about another career then I would have taken it – no questions asked. However, now that I have the experiences that I do, I don’t think I could ever give up this part of my life.

I love football, and I always have – and this season I’m training as hard as ever to play UEFA Women’s Champion’s League football with Apollon Ladies FC – the team that I have grown up supporting, and representing Cyprus as a national team player is an indescribable honour that I will always treasure. However – I’m not just a footballer anymore, and I don’t think I could ever go back to that. Being a nurse defines me just as much as being a player and, as hard as I have to work to balance the two, both of them are integral parts of my identity as a person.”