Thrive by IU Health

August 24, 2022

Respiratory therapists, there from first to last breath

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

Respiratory therapists, there from first to last breath

From helping a premature baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) breathe to saving the life of a patient suffering cardiac arrest in the emergency department—you can find a respiratory therapist in just about every part of a hospital.

At IU Health Bloomington, you'll often find Savannah Armstrong, RRT, in the NICU.

"I love babies," says Armstrong. "You're there from the beginning until they go home, so you get to see them grow."

Armstrong began her career six years ago, helping babies at a children's hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.

She joined IU Health Bloomington in early 2019. A little over a year later, COVID-19 arrived.

"The last couple of years as a respiratory therapist have been very busy and difficult," says Armstrong. "When I went into respiratory therapy, I did not think I'd be working during a pandemic."

As infections grew, respiratory therapists began caring for more and more adult COVID-positive patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Lindsey Stoll, RRT, who has been a respiratory therapist at IU Health Bloomington for six years, says no experience in her career can compare to the challenge RTs faced at the start of the pandemic. The unknown and fear of catching and spreading the virus made the job daunting.

“At the beginning, we didn't know how to treat these patients, what worked for them and what didn't once they got to a point of being on a ventilator. It was really stressful,” says Stoll.

While respiratory therapists have been integral members of health teams for decades, the pandemic placed them on the front lines for this fight.

Respiratory therapists are the ones who track a COVID-19 patient's oxygen levels, manage their breathing, and—if needed—help intubate them and set up a ventilator.

They are also there when it's time to take the patient off a ventilator—whether the outcome is good or bad.

“We are there at the very end of life. We turn the ventilator off, we get the tube out and extubate them. We are there for that entire process,” explains Stoll. “At the beginning, it was also tough because patients couldn’t have their families, so they were in there by themselves.”

But patients weren’t completely alone. Respiratory therapists and nurses were there to comfort them and give them a hand to hold. At times, it became overwhelming.

"It's hard not to take things home with you and worry about your own family members. You don't want to see them in the ICU like that," adds Armstrong.

To cope with the added stress, Armstrong and Stoll relied on their fellow respiratory therapists for support.

"We vent to each other. We share stories, bounce ideas off each other. So, that helps to get things off your chest and talk to someone who truly understands what you’re going through,” says Stoll.

They also focus on the positive.

“We've learned a lot through this process,” says Stoll. “Being able to see someone and we take care of them for weeks, and then they get better and can go home. That's the most rewarding feeling.”

Learn how to become a respiratory therapist including the application process, course of study, training and job responsibilities by visiting this link: