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Respiratory Therapists: Invisible Heroes


In his daily updates to inform the Nation, President Donald Trump mentions the need to have enough ventilators to help critically ill patients suffering from COVID19. The urgency to have an adequate number of ventilators is evident. However, who operates those ventilators and what does it take to use them to help patients survive infection with COVID19?

Respiratory Therapists have been part of the Allied Health profession since the early 1940s. These professionals are responsible for ventilators. Advances in medical engineering warranted higher levels of specialization in the field of Respiratory Care, as ventilators have evolved into sophisticated machines with a variety of breathing modalities.

Connecting patients to ventilators require individualized doctors’ orders with particular parameters to ventilate each patient according to their condition. Respiratory Therapists are at the front line, checking if the set parameters work for the patient. They also obtain and interpret arterial blood gases to determine how the patient is evolving, communicate it to doctors and nurses, and offer alternative suggestions to make necessary changes to the ventilator parameters. Furthermore, Respiratory Therapists asses patients’ readiness for extubation and initiate post-extubation therapies. They also reintubate the patients if needed.

Respiratory Therapists do much more than taking care of a breathing machine. Over time they have become a pivotal professional in adult, pediatric, and neonatal critical care, as well as asthma and COPD educators. These professionals specialize in the management of the cardiopulmonary system and perform specific and detailed functions as members of the medical team.

However, the value of Respiratory Therapists goes unmentioned despite their imperative role. It is common to hear praise about the unselfish sacrifices made by doctors and nurses working on the front line of the pandemic. Undoubtedly, doctors and nurses play an important and essential role inpatient care. Still, very seldom we hear about the professional who is most exposed to the virus, the Respiratory Therapist.

In the aftermath of an assassination attempt, March 21, 1981, when President Ronald Reagan woke up post-surgery in Bethesda Hospital, D. C., he noticed a group of professionals who took care of the machine that was helping him breathe. It was after his return to the White House that he instituted National Respiratory Therapy Week. But time has passed, and Respiratory Therapists continue to be underestimated and undervalued by the medical profession at large. The latter permeates to the public at large.

When someone states: “I am a Respiratory Therapist,” most people ask, “what is it that you do?” Respiratory Therapy might be the youngest of the Allied Health professions, but it has become a most necessary one, more so given the current health crisis. It is time they get the credit, respect, and recognition they have earned and rightfully deserve.

About the Author
Jose A. Lammoglia, MA, RRT became a Respiratory Therapist in the late 1970s. Has worked in multiple branches of the profession, expanding geriatric to pediatric critical care to pulmonary rehabilitation. He served in a Respiratory Care State Society as the director of two counties and is a member of several nursing and respiratory therapy programs advisory board committees. Jose Lammoglia currently works as the Program Director for the Associate and Bachelor’s in Respiratory Therapy at Florida National University.




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