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Respiratory therapists recognized as the ‘unsung heroes’ of the pandemic

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 3:57 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The final week of October marks the start of an important week to recognize who many would call the unsung heroes of this pandemic -- respiratory therapists.

They’re the specially trained men and women who help people keep breathing as they fight COVID.

“We really do become their family because it’s who we see the most. These COVID patients, they know your name. They know who you are, and they look forward to seeing you, which is really, really nice,” says respiratory therapist Mandy Adamski.

In our short conversation with her between patients, we can sense Adamski’s big heart as soon as she talks about her job.

But being a respiratory therapist is really so much more than a job.

She’s in it for one reason.

“The people,” she tells us.

Adamski is marking 27 years as a respiratory therapist at HSHS this year, but the last year and a half in the trenches of COVID-19 at St. Mary’s and St. Vincent hospitals in Green Bay have been the most demanding she’s ever experienced.

“It’s very challenging. Our workloads are high. Our patients are very sick,” says Adamski, her voice shaky

Thoughts of it all brings her to tears, yet every day, she keeps showing up.

“I feel like here at work is where I’m giving my all, and my house and my family, they suffer a little bit because of it,” she says.

“They are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I just see them literally entering a room. A few minutes later, they exit a room. They move right to another patient room. It’s just boom, boom, boom.,” says Dr. Sarah Lulloff, director for infectious disease for HSHS Eastern Wisconsin Hospitals. “They are the hidden unsung heroes of the COVID epidemic.”

October 24-30 is Respiratory Care Week, a time to recognize the work of all the people taking care of those hospitalized with high needs, requiring all kinds of machines and equipment just to breathe.

“Some are on special CPAP or BiPAP machines. Others are on ventilators and are intubated, and the respiratory therapists are really the primary people that are running the show, making sure the machines are set up properly, checking on the patients, giving them treatments, suctioning when needed,” explains Dr. Lulloff.

On top of COVID patients, respiratory therapists also help young patients fighting RSV or adults with the flu or chronic lung illnesses.

Adamski had asthma as a child, landing her in the hospital and setting her on the path to one day help others as she was helped.

It’s why she’s still at the hospital every day, despite the exhausting work as COVID’s grip won’t release.

Those she works with, like Dr. Lulloff, are pleading with people to get vaccinated and wear masks.

“We have seen reasonably healthy younger people that are sick and fighting for their life with COVID, and it’s it’s quite humbling and frightening, too,” she says.

“You just just have to do it. You just have to work on getting them better and getting them home to their families,” adds Adamski, just before heading off to help another patient.

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