By Ashley Skinner
Death: a fact of life Texas State University senior respiratory therapy student Jacki Brewer is becoming familiar with as she takes on her career goals of becoming a respiratory therapist.
“Of course I get scared and worried when things start to go wrong,” Brewer said. “You’re always going to worry about your patient, but the best way to put those bad thoughts aside is focusing on how to make the patient stable. You can’t worry about your feelings or yourself.”
When a patient’s family decides to take him or her off life support, a respiratory therapist is the one who disconnects the patient from the machines. For Brewer, this comes at a cost.
“Personally I step aside and get some fresh air,” Brewer said. “I’ll go pray and take a few deep breaths to clear my head. You can’t let it affect the rest of your day or you because you have other patients too. Your patients are your priorities; you can deal with yourself later.”
Brewer came to Texas State in 2014 from Carrollton, Texas. She chose Texas State because of the location between San Antonio and Austin, and because she felt like she immediately fit in on the campus.
Upon entering college, she did not know exactly what she wanted to do. However, once she realized there was a respiratory therapy program, her search for a major was over.
“In high school I was a home health aide and I took care of this really sweet, elderly lady,” Brewer said. “That experience paired with my asthma history is why I wanted to get into the field. I did my research once I heard about the profession at Texas State and I decided I wanted to be a part of that profession.”
Sharon Armstead, clinical assistant professor for respiratory therapy at Texas State, said Brewer is meant to be a respiratory therapist.
“She’s not scared to ask questions,” Armstead said. “She’s curious and shows initiative, and she isn’t afraid to take control of tough situations. That’s what a respiratory therapist needs to be.”
In January, Brewer went on a study abroad trip with Armstead to Guyana, South America, where she worked on patients with breathing issues in Georgetown Public
Hospital . Within 10 minutes of Brewer entering the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU), a patient began to show signs of being hypoxic: a condition in which the parts or regions of the body are deprived of adequate oxygen supply.
“I was really scared, this being my first time in their hospital with their equipment that I wasn’t familiar with,” Brewer said. “Once I got into it, I wasn’t scared and I think I handled it well. We got his stats back up and that’s all that matters.”
Armstead said at first she was worried about having Brewer in the CICU alone, but was impressed with how well she handled the patient with such urgency and care.
“She noticed the settings on the ventilator and that the patient was hypoxic immediately,” Armstead. “She bagged the patient. She suggested what changes should be made. She took control and she cares. That’s what I like about Jacki.”
Stephanie Kelley, senior respiratory therapy student at Texas State, went on the trip to Guyana and worked closely with Brewer while they were in the hospitals. Kelley also noticed how caring Brewer is with her patients.
“I don’t think anyone else is as observant as Jacki,” said Kelley. “She cares about her patients and people in general, and that’s one of her best characteristics.”
Listening to a person’s breathing before a treatment versus after, Brewer said, is a very rewarding feeling, as is being able to take a healthy person off of a ventilator.
“Their lungs go from sounding wet and crackly to sounding dry and clear and that’s proof of the work you’re doing,” Brewer said. “When someone is on a vent and is able to extubated, you get to take that tube out of their throat. The first thing they say is ‘oh my goodness that feels so much better, thank you’ and hearing those words is the most rewarding part of my job.”
Above is a video of Brewer helping a doctor draw blood from a patient to test the level of gases in his blood.
This video is of Brewer aiding a nurse during a hospital-wide oxygen shut down.
Videos by Ashley Skinner/Global News Team.