The COVID-19 pandemic sheds new light on the important work of respiratory therapists. These health care heroes are found managing labor-intensive ventilators and engaging with patients in COVID-19 units. They also are among those at the greatest risk of being exposed to the coronavirus while working to save lives.
Many respiratory care practitioners have made overwhelming sacrifices to isolate and distance themselves from their own families to prevent the virus from infecting the ones they love most. Reyna Gomez, a respiratory therapist with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, made this difficult decision faced by many parents working in health care.
“It has definitely been exhausting, both physically and emotionally,” Gomez says. “My boys are 4 and 7 years old, and my oldest just finished cancer treatment in November 2019. As a toddler, he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. He is a fighter and because he is immunocompromised, he and his brother have been living at their grandma’s house since the pandemic started. I frequently drop things off at their doorstep and safely greet them from the window. I can’t risk being a vector and bringing this virus home to my children.”
Physical and emotional support for patients
COVID-19 can attack a patient’s lungs, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to breathe independently. Endotracheal intubation is an emergency procedure performed by a doctor and a respiratory therapist to protect the patient’s airway and assist with breathing. Tiffany Matthews, one of Gomez’s colleagues in the respiratory therapy department at Sharp Chula Vista, recently became the support system to a patient who was away from her family and had to be intubated in the intensive care unit.
“The patient was a mother of two who became exposed to the virus after a spring family trip to Disneyland,” says Matthews. “Due to the new visitation guidelines that are set to protect those who are most vulnerable, our teams were the only ones by her side. I wasn’t sure if she could hear me, but I would whisper in her ear, ‘You have to keep fighting for your kids. You will get through this.’ She was intubated for four weeks and was able to return home safely to her family.”
The teamwork and camaraderie within Sharp Chula Vista’s respiratory therapy team has grown as the team has grown, according to Alex Arreguin, who has worked as a respiratory therapist for the past decade.
“I have an amazing team by my side,” Arreguin says. “We go through some tough days and it’s uplifting knowing that we have a resilient, compassionate team to lean on. Our department manager, Fernando Marin, has built a team of incredible professionals whom I consider family. Fernando is one in a million. He leads by example and supports us when we need it most.”
Respiratory therapists, nurses and doctors at Sharp HealthCare are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Your contribution to the Sharp COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund can help provide necessary resources to support the direct care of COVID-19 patients and provide personal protective equipment (PPE).