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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Behind the Scenes of COVID-19: Respiratory Therapy Helps Patients Breathe Easier

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Author name: Lee Health

Respiratory therapist Daniel Torres works with a COVID-19 patient.


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee Health’s care team has been on the front lines, using strict safety measures and passionate dedication to treat our community’s sickest patients.

Besides physicians and nurses, Lee Health’s COVID-19 team also includes other experts behind the scenes including certified nursing assistants, transporters, advanced providers – and respiratory therapists.

“We look for conditions like respiratory distress, wheezing, and cardiac arrest,” said Kathy Mattozzi, lead respiratory therapist at HealthPark Medical Center. “Anything to do with the heart and lungs, we’re there.”

From ventilators for use on sedated patients to breathing exercises on recovering patients who are about to leave the hospital, respiratory therapists are a pivotal part of the COVID-19 response.

They help patients who have any breathing disorders, including asthma, COPD, or emphysema, or those who need assistance breathing while sedated.

“We have direct patient contact, every day,” Mattozzi said. “In the ICU, we round with the doctors and learn about each patient.”

Taking an Active Role

The RT team was a well-oiled machine, aiding the frailest cardiac, stroke and surgical patients—until COVID-19 hit.

They regrouped and learned to work in a different way, with patients who are highly contagious and need special care. They exercise precautions but have become skilled in entering and exiting patient rooms with ease.

“The first couple of weeks were stressful with so many unknowns,” Mattozzi said. “But it’s better now.”

Respiratory therapist Daniel Torres works three 12-hour shifts each week. He spends 15 minutes to several hours in each patient room. Some patients are alert and follow instructions. Others are unconscious. During a recent day he checked a bi-pap machine and gave a breathing treatment.

“It’s rewarding when we see a patient improve,” he said. “We see it because we have such an active role. Watching someone walk out means a lot. I think everyone on the care team respects what we do.”

‘Nobody’s Done Until Everybody’s Done’

That care reaches all levels. Respiratory therapy assistant Robert Higginbotham spends his days collecting equipment that has been used and is ready for cleaning. He disinfects all pieces, wraps them in plastic and stores them in a safe room until the staff need them.

“It’s nice to be part of this team,” he said. “I worked in transport and then came here.”

Ten years into the job, Higginbotham said he wouldn’t change anything. “Our director makes sure we have what we need and we’re safe.”

Patients, like those who spend most of their time unconscious, have little idea how pivotal the respiratory team is to their survival and recovery, but the therapists remain positive.

“We know we’re an important part of the care team,” Mattozzi said. “We are like a family and everybody helps. If I need help, someone will come from another floor if I need it. Nobody’s done until everybody’s done.”

Caitlin-Radigan.jpg

Caitlin Radigan, respiratory therapist, hard at work gathering equipment.

Services provided by Respiratory Therapy

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Blood draws
  • Blood gas determinations
  • Airway management
  • Aerosol therapy
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Ventilator management

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