Shannon: “The programme makes you feel like you’re going through this as a family”

Shannon Barlow works for Heathrow Airport’s fire service and attended one of our Covid Recovery Programmes at Marine Court – which she says helped her feel less alone on her health journey.

Everyone’s experience of Long Covid can be different – and because of that, it might feel like you’re alone in what you’re going through.

But, as firefighter Shannon Barlow discovered on one of our Covid Recovery Programmes, nothing could be further from the truth.

Shannon, who works in the fire service at Heathrow Airport, first got Covid-19 in 2022. However, it was the longer-term symptoms she has lived with since that have proved life-changing.

“A couple of days after I tested negative [for Covid], unfortunately that’s when my Long Covid symptoms really started,” says Shannon.

“They were pretty heavy from the off and I’ve just been experiencing Long Covid ever since. That’s been a journey. I experience mainly gastric issues, but I also experience fatigue, brain fog, headaches.”

We visited Heathrow Airport last year, to share some of the services we offer, and someone in Shannon’s Watch told her about the Covid Recovery Programme. She phoned us the very same day and was subsequently offered a place on one at Marine Court.

“The programme has been incredible,” Shannon told us, when we met her midway through the week. “They’ve been so lovely, from the first time you meet them. You come in, you talk to them and they listen.”

While Shannon says she’d sometimes felt “a bit isolated” while living with her symptoms, she soon formed lasting connections with others on the programme.

“I’d thought that everyone was going to have the same symptoms, but you realise everyone is so different, no-one’s got the same story and that – we’ve all said – has been so beneficial to hear,” she adds.

“You think if you say you’ve got a rare side effect that people aren’t going to believe it’s Long Covid, but Long Covid is so unknown, it has so many side effects that you can experience that actually you can have Long Covid and completely be different to the person next to you that also has Long Covid.”

She adds: “When you come to The Fire Fighters Charity and you do this programme, it really allows you to connect to other people and it really allows you to open up and feel support – and not feel on your own…

“You go, ‘okay, other people are going through what I’m going through’, and it really just makes you feel like you’re going through this as a family. I really love that.

“It makes me speechless because I just didn’t expect this amount of care given to me – I can’t thank them enough.”

Asked what advice she’d offer to others who may not have accessed our support, Shannon says: “The advice I would give is, contact The Fire Fighters Charity. I can’t express enough the journey you go on with them, it’s unforgettable, it really is.

“At home there’s so much that you have to tuck away because you’re working, because of kids… then you get to come here and feel what you’re feeling and be that little bit vulnerable, and experience pain or anything you’re experiencing with your health.

“The support you get, I really can’t recommend it enough, it’s actually incredible and I one hundred per cent will come back here if I had any joint issues or anything like that.”

If you feel you’d benefit from our health and wellbeing support, you can call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or visit the ‘Access Support’ tab in My Fire Fighters Charity.

And remember – if you’re feeling suicidal, you can call our Crisis Line 24 hours a day on 0300 373 0896.