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DENVER (KDVR) — One of the state’s top infectious disease experts is sharing her personal experience of heartache due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention at UCHealth, is not only armed with the knowledge to battle the virus, she is also filled with an experience that allows her to understand the emotional pain.

“I could really empathize with family and patients in terms of what they were going through,” Barron said.

Barron was consumed by the impact of the pandemic on multiple levels as her loved ones became sick.

“It was a very challenging time to be both taking care of patients … and then seeing it occur in my family and feeling that sense of helplessness,” she explained.

Barron lost her aunt and uncle to COVID-19. They were two family members who were more like parents to her. Uncle Rick and Aunt Mari from Texas are two people she loved deeply.

“That loss is something that will never recover,” Barron said. “And, sadly, I’m not unique. Over 500,000 people have in the United States have died from COVID-19.”

Barron doesn’t want other families to feel the pain she experienced. She’s concerned as people become more relaxed amid vaccine hesitancy and the rise of COVID-19 variants.

“For those that are still worried about it and still thinking about [being vaccinated], we are seeing hospitalizations rise,” she warned. “The number of cases seems to be going up and down.”

Barron said widespread vaccination is key to achieving needed herd immunity. She said younger patients, even with mild disease, can suffer long-term impacts and low energy levels.

“All my family that got infected, and that actually survived, have now received their vaccine,” she said.