Thrive by IU Health

June 01, 2021

She’s a respiratory therapist with asthma, and she’s on the front lines

IU Health Methodist Hospital

She’s a respiratory therapist with asthma, and she’s on the front lines

Jody White didn’t have to treat COVID-positive patients at Methodist Hospital, but opting out didn’t feel right to her. Now the mother of three has a warning for those who want to wish the virus away.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Jody White could have played it safe. As a respiratory therapist with an underlying health condition, she didn’t have to step up to treat patients with COVID-19 at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

But that’s who she is.

Jody White poses for a selfie in her front line uniform

“I was terrified, but I knew I had to do it,” she said, even though her supervisor said she did not have to work with COVID-positive patients. “I would have felt horrible if I had opted out.”

White, whose earliest childhood memories are of lying in an oxygen tent in a hospital, has asthma. She has suffered bouts of pneumonia since she was a child and takes daily medication to keep her condition under control.

Yet there she was, on the front lines in the fight against COVID last spring, through the summer and still today as patient numbers have soared.

Now that team members have begun to be vaccinated against the virus, White and her colleagues are optimistic that the country can begin to turn a corner in the fight against the pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.

The 43-year-old mother of three is scheduled to get her vaccine Jan. 8. She has to wait a few weeks because she recently received a pneumonia vaccine. Even if she has a mild reaction to the shot, she said she’d much rather have that than full-blown COVID.

White has been a respiratory therapist in adult critical care and neuro critical care at Methodist for 10 years. She came to her career later in life, starting her education once her youngest child was in grade school. Her three kids, all young adults, live with her, so they’ve seen her routine when she comes home from a shift – clothes go in the washer and she goes in the shower.

White with her three children

They were not pleased with her decision to put herself at risk by working on the front lines in the pandemic, but she would not be dissuaded.

“I get really emotional when I talk about it, and honestly, it was very hard in the beginning,” she said, and sure enough, the tears started to flow as she spoke. “I had a floor that was full of COVID patients … we were so unsure of everything.”

But respiratory therapy is a huge part of the treatment patients with the virus need, and that is what White is trained to do.

“I am an ICU therapist; that’s all I’ve ever done,” she said. “I have a connection with the patients I take care of because I understand what it’s like to have lung issues.”

She also understands what it’s like to see a family member struggle with respiratory distress. Her father suffered chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. Healthcare was her calling.

After many months of treating patients with the virus, White said it hasn’t gotten easier, but maybe she has gotten stronger.

“In the beginning, it was very difficult. On my way home, I would cry, not knowing if I was exposed but knowing it was my job, and I knew that it was in me to do my job,” she said.

“So I would just sleep on it and talk to my work family. We keep each other going. We’re all going through the same thing, so we put our fears out there to each other. I can say that our department at Methodist has done a phenomenal job of keeping us safe,” she added.

She wishes people on the outside showed more respect for the virus and for those on the front lines caring for people. They can do that by masking up and keeping their distance, vaccine or not.

“Everyone is mentally stressed, not just healthcare workers. We’re social beings, so people are still wanting to get together, especially for the holidays. But that’s why we’re having so many positive cases again,” she said.

Just because COVID may not have affected your family doesn’t mean it hasn’t continued to inflict sweeping harm across our community and our nation, White said.

“When you have people walking around with no mask, it’s blatant disrespect. You may not see the virus, but it is real, and we are still dealing with the same emotions and the same mental exhaustion that we had on day one.”

White said she and her extended family in Illinois have canceled all of their holiday plans, instead setting their sights on next July for a gathering.

“I really want people to understand that it is not a good idea to have holiday celebrations this year,” she said. “Otherwise, I fear that we’re probably going to go into the New Year with a lot more cases.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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Asthma

Narrowed airways causing coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, triggered by irritants like smoke, allergens or exercise.