CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Seldom do you think of a doctor as commanding an army, but the staff at Roper Hospital say when the enemy is COVID-19, it is a war.

They see life-changing and life-ending situations all around them.

Meet a physician who uses her skill and passion to protect and serve her patients every day.

Suited up and ready for battle – including scrubs and masks – Dr. Romina Ilic, an anesthesiologist, walks through the halls of the hospital, creating plans to care for a new population of patients.

“It’s nice to be able to take care of patients and see them safely through surgery,” she said.

She’s the director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. “Typically, the ICU is where the sickest patients in the hospital end up, so those are the folks we focus on,” she said.

Focusing on those needing the most care while managing to reduce IV and catheter-related infections at Roper.

“Often times, they come in and you’re not sure necessarily why they are sick. You just know that they are really sick, so you may have a limited amount of time to figure it out before they get worse,” she explained.

Calling the shots during a pandemic has forced a new level of leadership, because the enemy – COVID-19 – was new and unpredictable.

“Early on it was a lack of information and trying to learn as you go and taking care of patients with a brand-new disease that we didn’t know that much about.”

She said it’s heartbreaking to not be able to help somebody when they are asking for help.

One year into the pandemic, there are treatments and a vaccine.

“It’s very rewarding when you can help people out of the toughest moments of their lives,” she said.

But COVID-19 is a war, and everyday she and her team are battling against this deadly disease and its affects.

“Logistically just finding space for patients because hospitals are at capacity, and so getting phone calls from other facilities and asking for transfers for patients who are really sick and need to get to a higher level of care, and not having space for them is tough,” she explained.

Her colleagues say she is tough. When patients go on a ventilator, Dr. Ilic peers down their throats knowing the procedure puts her at high risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“Most folks know going on a ventilator means that not only are you very ill but your mortality increases when you require a mechanical ventilation, and that may be a marker just because you are that sick and need the extra care.”

Challenge and change are nothing new for Dr. Ilic. She can to the United States with her mother from Croatia.

“I think I was like 7 or 8 years old,” she recalled.

Learning and mastering a second language and culture.

“The clash of two cultures, being a little kid and going to school and learning a brand-new language, and a new year of life and a new culture,” she said.

When the words “healthcare workers on the front lines” are said, there is one who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with her staff, but for the many lives she’s saved or improved, she stands out.

“I love my job, and I’m really lucky I can do it with such amazing people at my side,” she said. “My family always knew I would be a doctor, but it took me a while to believe them. There was a litany of things I thought I would be, definitely not a physician for a very long time.”

You might imagine that Dr. Ilic’s schedule would not allow much downtown, but this mother carves out time to be a triathlete who enjoys surfing and running – plus, the occasional sweet treat.

“I can eat an impressive amount of M&M’s in one sitting,” she laughed.

Dr. Romina Ilic – a mother, doctor, athlete, and truly a remarkable woman.