Who’s Who In The ICU—The Respiratory Therapist

A photo of Dr. William Novick, Martina Pavanic, and several other International Children's Heart Foundation volunteers from Remedy Mission XIII.

Quiz time! What kinds of nurses and doctors does it take to pull off one of our Remedy Missions? Any guesses?

[Imaginary] you: “Uhhhh… a surgeon. And nurses. Aaand…others?”

That’s what I thought. You guys are insanely compassionate do-gooders who save lives, but we’ve failed you. We’ve spent so much time introducing you to the children you’re saving that we never introduced you to the people who are doing the saving!

But that’s about to change, starting today.

A photo of a child being cared for by Rachel Gulden, a volunteer Respiratory Therapist with the International Children's Heart Foundation

This is the first of a series where we’ll introduce you to the fantastic volunteer doctors and nurses who are saving lives and helping us eradicate The Backlog. And—since they come on most missions—we’re starting with the respiratory therapist, or ‘RT’ for short.

So I’ve asked Rachel Gulden, a friend and registered respiratory therapist, to share a bit about her work and what it entails:

Rachel: “Respiratory therapists are basically specialized nurses, and they deal with all things related to breathing. In my case, I’m an RT who trained to work with children.

After surgery, kids require a lot of care, and their breathing can be difficult to monitor and maintain. Rachel explains:

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“I use ventilators, or breathing machines, to help keep the children alive until they can breathe on their own again. But using these machines isn’t as simple as flipping the ‘On’ switch. There are hundreds of different ventilator settings, and I have to find the right one for each child. With technology as advanced as it is, some ventilators actually have automated settings that would work for some children. But that’s only some children. Most cases require hands-on, fine-tuned ventilation that is specific to them. And it’s not easy to teach, but I’m still trying to teach the basics to the local Iraqi ICU nurses here.

Rachel: “But taking a child off the ventilator is one of the easiest things I do. It’s much more difficult to wean and keep them off of the ventilator. Then, of course, we provide physio-therapy to help them recover. This can be a bit more challenging for RTs who work with children because the kids don’t always follow instructions and will, on occasion, kick and bite (I speak from experience); bubble-blowing, walking around, and other little past-times make for more child-friendly breathing exercises.”

So there’s a quick introduction to the Respiratory Therapist, an important member of the medical teams taking care of these children. Considering you’re helping us provide plane tickets to these teams, we think it’s important for you to know what kind of care you’re providing.

Come back for our upcoming Remedy Mission XIV (that’s 14 for you non-Romans) and we’ll introduce you to another team member and their role.

Thanks for reading!

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