UK respiratory therapist talks about being on the frontlines caring for COVID-19 patients

Published: Apr. 1, 2020 at 3:30 PM EDT
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Healthcare workers on the frontlines fighting COVID-19 are the unsung heroes of this ongoing battle.

Through this outbreak we have learned that for many of the patients who develop this disease they have problems breathing and for the most critical they will need to be on a ventilator.

Many of our viewers have sent us emails asking us to highlight the work respiratory therapists do and what we learned is that they are truly on the frontlines.

WKYT’S Amber Philpott talked with a long time registered respiratory therapist who says her days have been hard, but it’s also been an honor to care for these COVID-19 patients.

As Kentucky prepares for a surge in COVID-19 patients, healthcare workers at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington are caring for those critically ill right now.

“This is why I do this because I love to help people and I look them in the eye and I tell them we are there for them," said Shelby Martin.

Shelby Martin is a veteran registered respiratory therapist at UK helping patients breathe.

Her job has never been more important than in it is right now in this pandemic.

"Some of these patients they have this virus, they end up having breathing problems, so we do oxygen therapy with them and if they have to be intubated we assist with that," said Martin.

Martin and her team basically do anything necessary with the treatment for the lungs including setting up and maintaining ventilators.

Martin herself has treated a number of COVID patients at UK and has seen firsthand how serious it is.

"So what we have been seeing is that usually around the fifth day for some of these patients is when they kind of deteriorate with their breathing and when it happens it’s usually quick," said Martin.

At UK, the number of healthcare workers allowed in a room treating a COVID patient is limited to just a nurse and an respiratory therapist and because of that Martin is now stepping in to do more than just care for patients.

"While in there we turn the patient, we help give baths, we also will clean the room, take out the trash and mop, said Martin.

Martin credits her team at UK for holding one another up during these stressful days.

As vital as their role is, perhaps it’s the compassion they can administer that is also important.

"I remember a lot of these patients after they go home and I'm just blessed that I was there to be there. I pray with them and just hold their hand if they need me to hold their hand," said Martin.

Across the country we know there is a shortage of ventilators, but there is also a shortage of respiratory therapists who work those machines.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018 shows a number of states are below the national average for the number of respiratory therapists in their state.

Kentucky is actually above average with about 1.46 times the national average.