On the Prairies, fall is typically a season of bustling activity. With harvest underway, farm equipment on fields is a familiar sight as families savour the last days of summer, visiting the beach or cottage and spending the last few warm days outdoors. For individuals with asthma and allergies or other chronic lung diseases, however, fall can require time spent indoors away from dust and allergens, and increased reliance on an inhaler to combat breathing troubles.

For Alyssa Elliott, whose childhood was marked by asthma and allergies, learning how to manage late-night wheezing also translated into a specialized career path. 

“Learning how to manage my asthma and allergies was very interesting to me and I think it naturally began my curiosity to pursue a career in respiratory therapy,” said Alyssa Elliott, Senior Respiratory Therapist at the Brandon Regional Health Centre. “Respiratory therapy is so much more than just treating asthma. We operate breathing machines, perform intubations and are involved in high-risk deliveries in the neonatal department.”

The role of a respiratory therapist is diverse. Highly specialized education and training combine to provide individuals with the skills to provide treatment and support to patients with a variety of respiratory conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and asthma. In recent years, the expertise RTs have in managing airways made them instrumental in the health system’s response to COVID-19.  

“When you think of people in health care we are not typically at the top of the list, but we are an important part of the team,” said Elliott who has worked as an RT for more than 10 years. “The pandemic shone a light on just how much respiratory therapists can do and how vital we are in the health care system. Our role on care teams and scope of practice has continued to grow since then.”

The days pass quickly, added Elliott, aided in part by the diversity of the work and the often-unknown nature of the patient care she may be asked to provide.

“We attend a lot of emergency medical codes, supporting the airway and helping the patient breathe during that time. You need to be able to think on your feet. Our work can come with a lot of waves of adrenaline and you never really know what the day is going to bring.”

It’s fulfilling work and Elliott is quick to reflect on the rewarding moments she is able to experience with her patients.

“When we remove a patient’s breathing tube and they take their first few breaths on their own, it’s such a good feeling,” she said. “You can see them take a big sigh of relief and knowing that you helped with that is pretty special. You also make a fast friend because they’re usually quite excited to get it (the tube) out by that point.”

Respiratory therapists work alongside many other skilled members of health care teams, each playing a key role in essential care and learning together with every new experience.  

“You will find us just about anywhere in the hospital,” explained Elliott. “Beside doctors and nurses… that’s where RTs and allied health professions are. There are so many different professions that support patient care – it’s a whole group effort! I appreciate these recognition weeks for helping to bring our professions to the spotlight.”

Shared Health is proud to celebrate National Respiratory Therapy week, October 22-28, recognizing the expertise and vital role RTs play in helping Manitobans breathe easier.

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