An Irish woman from Derry is pleading for the public to take COVID-19 seriously after her own battle with the virus.

Speaking from Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, Sandra Kelly, 58, told BBC News NI that she feared she would die and never see her family again.

"You are aware that the doctors and nurses have a big battle fighting to save your life and you don't know if you are going to live or die," she said.

Her symptoms were initially mild, but she took a turn for the worse on the eighth day.

"Something took over my body and there was no control," she said.

"You just knew this was bad. You thought maybe you weren't going to make it.

In the hospital, Kelly was admitted to a specialist COVID recovery unit in the hospital and hooked up to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to help her breathe.

"It was traumatic. I was thinking about my family, my husband, my children, my grandson.

"My mum is 86 and to have to leave my mum behind would have been difficult.

"I'm the only girl and her carer, I worried who would look after her.

Credit: Getty

Credit: Getty

The hospital’s Ward 21, which was an elective orthopedic facility until it was set up as a COVID recovery unit a few weeks ago, is currently operating at full capacity with 20 patients seriously ill with coronavirus.

There were three deaths from the virus in the past week - all affecting the staff who are working 12-hour shifts.

Nurse Laura Hegarty, 29, said she felt "exhausted, physically drained and emotional.”

She told the BBC: "In the four years that I have been a nurse this has been the most challenging few weeks of my life."

Sandra Kelly said the staff at the hospital are the reason she is still alive.

"Thanks to the nursing staff - they were tremendous," she said. "They are the reason I'm here today."

Kelly had a stark warning for people who ignore coronavirus restrictions.

"Covid is real. It will come, it will get you," she said.

"You have to live by the guidelines and obey the rules and hopefully you will not end up where I ended up."