Collette Kallee Paramedic and OBE
Welcome to another instalment in our new blog series, Behind the Blue Walls, where we’ll be interviewing our customers and sharing their incredible stories. We want you to see that self storage is more than just big empty rooms, or rooms full of people’s furniture; each unit at Safestore has a story of its own and, from time to time, we have the privilege of getting to know the back stories.
Today we’re looking at Collette Kallee’s story; a Burnley Paramedic who led a medical team at an Ebola Treatment Centre in Kambia.
Collette is a paramedic based in Burnley, Lancashire. When the Ebola outbreak hit the news it was clear that the situation for those in affected areas was dire and many medically trained personnel from the UK travelled to Africa to offer relief. Collette was one of those people travelling to Kambia, a district in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, to provide medical help.
Initially Collette was only based in Africa for a three month post in December 2014 however upon arriving back in the UK, she realised that there was more work to be done. Putting her stuff into self storage Collette planned to really make a difference and travelled back out to Kambia for an unpaid career break. Staying for a full year until January 2016, she coordinated and managed a response unit within the village which managed any large-scale outbreaks that occurred. Over time, her team worked to set up smaller units which managed outbreaks in areas where infection rates were lower.
Although she had no humanitarian experience, Collette knew that her role as a paramedic gave her an ability to respond to emergency situations no matter how severe or urgent. Speaking to Safestore, Collette said “I’ve learnt a lot about myself – I had no humanitarian experience and no idea what I was doing – but I’m good at being thrown into a situation and reacting. It’s sink or swim”.
Working for two months straight at a time whilst living on a diet of instant noodles and tinned tuna, Collette suffered from exhaustion, malaria and parasitic infections during her post. But this didn’t stop her from working hard and continuing to help to combat the deadly virus.
The Challenges faced by medical staff
One of the biggest challenges faced by the international response teams was, and still is, the attitude amongst villagers towards modern medicine. People in affected countries believe in traditional healers, not modern drugs or treatment centres, therefore would reject the efforts of medical staff. The mistrust of medical professionals meant that many infected individuals fled over the Guinea border to evade treatment, spreading the infection into new territories, therefore part of the challenge for UK medicals was to try and work with communities to educate them.
Collette praised the level of training given to staff which taught them rigorous safety rules so as to protect them from becoming infected when entering ‘red zones’. Before making their way into these highly infected areas, all staff were made to wear Hazmat suits, two pairs of latex gloves and there were strict guidelines as to how to treat affected patients. This made staff feel safe, so long as they followed the rules down to the letter.
There were times when it felt somewhat unsafe, however, as medical staff such as Collette who had trained as a paramedic were responsible for travelling into villages to collect severely ill patients. Since the community perception of these centres was one of fear and mistrust it made transferring sick patients extremely difficult. Communities could, at times, become quite volatile as they tried to protect their loved ones, which posed new challenges for medical teams as they tried to negotiate the release of sick family members as quickly as possible so as to provide treatment urgently.
Collette was one of only eight people to receive an award for her contribution to the Ebola response in Sierra Leone. She made the New Year 2016 Honours List and received her honour from the Queen herself, commenting that “the whole thing was very surreal!” when asked about how she felt during the ceremony.
A truly humble and selfless person, she went on to say “I’m just a little northern girl from Lancashire – I don’t like the attention of it all. I like to be in the background” but is extremely proud of her achievement, adding that “paramedics rarely get the awards – it’s normally doctors who get them”.
The award ceremony went without a hitch but, faced with the Queen, the people receiving the awards were extremely nervous. Collette remembers the day well, laughing at the way in which all the women were trying to figure out how to curtsy. She said “I was just terrified; I thought I was either going to throw up on the Queen, cough in her face since I unfortunately had Pneumonia at the time, or trip over”, luckily avoiding all three mishaps.
Asked about how her family felt, Collette said that on the day her mum was obsessed with finding out which royal would be carrying out the investiture! They’re very proud of her and over the moon that she’s finally back home safe and sound.
Collette has now started her role again as a paramedic in the UK and is looking forward to welcoming her first child later on this year. Her parents and family are particularly excited because having a baby might make her stick around for a while – her wild adventures make them nervous!
Safestore would like to say a huge thank you to Collette for sharing this incredible story with us; it’s great to hear more about our customers and connect with the reasons that people use our services. We wish you all the best for your new arrival and look forward to supporting you in new adventures to come!
If you have any interesting stories regarding why you had to use storage, or why you’re currently using storage, leave a comment below.