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Respiratory Therapists Serve Vital Role During Coronavirus Pandemic


On the front lines against a virus that attacks the lungs, the dedicated work of respiratory therapists has never been more important.

Richard Villanueva, an instructor at American Career College-Ontario and critical care respiratory therapist, said he’s never seen "so much love and teamwork” among the staff where he works at Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage, California.

“Right now, my colleagues and I are totally immersed in this pandemic. Personally, I have never experienced anything like this,” Villanueva said. “Every day is nerve-wracking and exhausting. There’s constant stress.”

Respiratory therapists (RT) care for patients who have trouble breathing — from chronic respiratory diseases like asthma or emphysema, or from conditions brought about by a virus like COVID-19.

“These responsibilities put us at tremendous risk of contracting pulmonary infections at a time like this,” Villanueva said. “I have done tracheostomies, bronchoscopies and many intubations on COVID-19 positive patients — and yes, I am afraid I may contract the disease, even though my facility has done an amazing job of keeping us safe.”

The actual job of the respiratory therapist, he added, has many aspects:

  • Interviewing and examining patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders and performing diagnostic tests to measure lung capacity;
  • Performing chest physiotherapy to remove mucus from the lungs and administering aerosol medications to make it easier for patients to breathe;
  • Connecting patients to ventilators that deliver oxygen to the lungs when their breathing conditions are more acute. This involves inserting a tube in the patient’s windpipe and making sure the patients receive the proper amount of oxygen at the proper rate.

“I am proud of the work we’re doing and gratified by what I see — the dedication and tireless efforts of the fellow respiratory therapists, nurses and physicians I’m privileged to work with every day,” Villanueva said. “Never in my life have I seen so much love and teamwork. We’re all determined to beat this virus and have faith we’ll soon weather this storm.”

ACC cannot guarantee employment. Programs vary by campus. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.

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