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Behind the Scenes of COVID-19: Respiratory Therapy at Lee Memorial Hospital 

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Author name: Lee Health

Lee Memorial respiratory therapist photo

Genesis Hernandez, Respiratory Therapist, Lee Memorial Hospital, ties her gown before entering a patient’s room in the ICU. Ensuring proper personal protection equipment (PPE) is critical for the health and safety of both the patient and staff.

“You never forget that look of fear on the patients’ faces before intubation,” says Natasha Knapp, lead respiratory therapist at Lee Memorial Hospital (LMH). “We’ve had multiple patients ask if they would survive and to pass along messages to their families.”

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and our Lee Health respiratory therapists (RT) have been on the frontlines since the beginning. Unfortunately, not many people know about their vital role.

So we’d like to celebrate and honor these amazing teams for #RespiratoryCareWeek, which took place Oct. 24-30. RTs have always been there for the frailest cardiac, stroke and surgical patients to help improve lung function and quality of life. But then COVID-19 hit.

For the last 19 months, they have been working around the clock as pivotal parts of our pandemic response team.

Jessica Surrat has been a respiratory therapist at LMH for a little over a year. She was previously a pharmacy tech at Lee Health, but she changed careers after seeing the power of respiratory therapists up close and personal.  

“I went to school to become a respiratory therapist after I saw the care they provided to my dad before the pandemic,” says Jessica. “I didn’t know at that time what COVID-19 would become and started school in the middle of the outbreak. I knew how important we are to the care of the patients and never changed my mind.”

Now, Jessica continues her essential work, diving into her duties to assess her patients’ breathing needs right alongside her co-workers, facing down challenges wherever they find them. And although every shift is different — our RT teams work closely with patients from various backgrounds in every nook and cranny of the hospital — they are all in this together, all battling the same fight.

“It is so hard seeing the people we care for lose their battles to COVID-19,” says Melissa Hughes, LHM respiratory therapist. “I cannot believe the amount of young patients we care for from this disease. When we save a patient, it is a huge win.”

Patients may not be familiar with the care RT provides before they go on a ventilator. However, after needing the assistance of a respiratory therapist, patients are very thankful and even sometimes recall moments, words of encouragement or their respiratory therapists explaining procedures.

“My team is awesome,” says Melissa Hughes, respiratory therapist, LMH. “I never feel alone and it’s not every man for themselves. We laugh and joke a lot together to keep our spirits up. We are one huge family.” 

COVID-19 has affected us all in some way. These are the people fighting for us and our loved ones. Although Respiratory Therapy Care Week is over, let's remember to celebrate them all year long!

We are #LeeHealthStrong and #RTStrong