Finding the right fit in respiratory therapy

By Katie Burrell

A powerhouse in the ICU and a loving sister, daughter and friend, Stephanie Kelley can be found finding herself through helping heal others.

Kelley grew up in Round Rock, Texas, a town two hours away from her university, Texas State. She spent her adolescent days pounding her feet to the rubber track of Cedar Ridge High School and fighting with her older brother. The youngest of three, Kelley has grown up surrounded by love and family. This can be seen through her ability to take a joke, tease a friend and sing-a-long to a song on a bus full of people.

When Kelley landed in Guyana on Jan. 2, her step onto the tarmac was just another step toward the career of helping others she always wanted. However, respiratory therapy and Kelley did not cross paths until she was midway through college.

Kelly spent her first two years of college at Austin Community College. There she finished her basic courses including those in science and math. Science had always been her favorite, since her biology class her junior year of high school. Her plan was to be a radiation therapist, she had passed her classes and set her mind to it, until she met with an ACC advisor.

The advisor told Kelley she was made to work in the medical field, but she would not advise radiation therapy. Kelley’s grade in chemistry, after retaking the class was fine, but the advisor told Kelley she would be hard-pressed to find a radiation program open to accepting that she retook a class.

This news was a shock to Kelley, but mostly because it was a shock to her plan. She worked hard, got the grades and was content with where she would be the next two years. This news flipped Kelley’s plan upside down.

As usual, Kelley’s family was supportive and offered her advice, but she was worried she would disappoint herself most so she sought out other options. Kelley eventually decided to call her aunt in Houston, who works in a hospital as a respiratory therapist, aiding patients, nurses and doctors in all sorts of conditions.

Kelley decided to give it a go. She wanted to help people, and feel accomplished. She transferred to Texas State.

Stephanie Kelley bags a patient, allowing him to breath while the hospital was without oxygen for six minutes. Photo By Katie Burrell.

At Texas State, Kelley has spent over 600 hours in hospitals and classrooms learning how to help patients breathe, recover from surgery and survive all sorts of conditions.

“My own goals push me through,” Kelley said. “Of course my parents are always saying they’re proud of me, but they aren’t overbearing. I push myself the most.”

In Guyana, Kelley spent her days working in the Intensive Care Unit at Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. Competent, level headed and organized, Kelley made her rounds, bagged patients and worked with doctors and nurses all on her own.

While working in the ICU in Georgetown, Kelley was faced with a moment where lives depended on her. Oxygen in the hospital went down for six minutes and nine seconds. Kelley had to help her patients breathe and delegated to the nurses to help. The hospital staff had no idea the incident would happen, but Kelley stayed cool and allowed the man, lying on the hospital bed in front of her to breathe and live on to continue his treatment.

Kelley was taught by Sharon Armstead, director of clinical education and clinical assistant professor of respiratory therapy at Texas State. Armstead said Kelley is independent and wise, which can be confirmed watching her control a patient’s room in the ICU. Armstead watched Kelley provide life-saving care in Guyana when a hospital’s oxygen went out.

“She’s the delegator,” Armstead said. “She has a lot of energy. I think one of the things about Stephanie is that she doesn’t know her own potential. When she was in the ICU she controlled the room. I don’t think she thinks that is a big deal, she just does it.”

Before the trip, Kelley organized fundraising, T-shirt design and scheduling for her team. Kelley was calm, and mild mannered every step of the way from making sure patients could breathe, to asthma testing weary high school students and organizing a day of fun for children in an orphanage.

Amber Hazelett, Texas State alumnus and registered respiratory therapist was on the trip and worked with Kelley in the emergency in Guyana.

“I met Stephanie about a month before the trip,” Hazelett said. “My first impression of her was that she was a bubbly and talkative person. On the trip, she was actually eager to work in the ER.”

Kelley graduates this spring with the goal to work in Austin, Texas, as a registered respiratory therapist specializing in pediatric care.


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