Category Archives: Featured

Curious, caring, compassionate: three characteristics of an aspiring respiratory therapy student

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.

Brewer calculates the right dosage of medicine to give to a young patient in the emergency room at Georgetown Public Hospital. Too much medicine can cause complications, such as more difficulty breathing.                                                           Photo by Ashley Skinner/Global News Team.

“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

Brewer works alongside a doctor at Georgetown Public Hospital, attempting to stabilize a patient in the CICU.
Photo by Ashley Skinner/Global News Team

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. 

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Family as a Foundation: Bridges Global Medical Missions

By Lindsey Blisard

Dr. Claudette Heyliger-Thomas founded Bridges Global Medical Missions in 2008 with the sole purpose of giving back to the country that she is from–Guyana.

Her team of volunteer medical professionals ranges from nurses and social workers to doctors of different specialties, such as endocrinologists, gynecologists and cardiologists.

Food For the Poor, an organization in the United States that helps to provide donated items, meals, and healthcare to poor areas, has been one of her greatest supporters. They supported her in the beginning of her mission work and continue to support Bridges Global Medical Missions by donating shoes, clothing and toiletry items for her to distribute in the country.

When Heyliger-Thomas started Bridges, she knew in the beginning it would be challenging to help the entire country, so she decided to start near where her mother grew up – West Coast Berbice and Parika.

On her first medical mission in 2008 to Guyana, Heyliger-Thomas brought along with her a team consisting of her cousin (a cardiologist), her daughter (a surgical resident), her childhood friend (a pharmacist), and her husband’s cousin (a nurse).

“It was family. Family, family, family,” she said. “I talked with them… they jumped on board, and we did it.”

Heyliger-Thomas left Guyana when she was 18 to attend university in Montreal, knowing that when she left, she wanted to be a physician. After going to UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, she became a pediatrician and has been doing private practice in Atlanta, Georgia.

In addition to her medical outreach, Heyliger-Thomas has also started a Continuing Medical Education program in Guyana. Since 2009, she and her medical team give lectures at the hospitals that they rotate at, but in the beginning, they felt they were leaving much of the country out and that not enough people were getting chances for expanding their education.

In 2017, as a  collaboration with the University of Guyana, they put out ads in the newspaper to invite nurses, physicians, and allied health professionals to the Continuing Medical Education program. Diversity was important to her in order to get as many people to come to the conference as possible.

The number of people who showed up was something Heyliger-Thomas was not expecting.

“We catered for 100 people and 350 showed up,” she said. “I walked into the room and we were absolutely blown away.”

Sharon Armstead, a respiratory therapist, has been a part of the group since 2015. She is also from Guyana and, with Bridges, was able to return home for the first time since she was a child. She has gone with Bridges back to Guyana in order to help expand the respiratory therapy knowledge in the country.

Armstead said she appreciates Heyliger-Thomas because of the amount of passion she has for her profession and her country.

“She gets people from all over the world and all over the country to come and volunteer their time for free,” she said. “And they come because of Claudette.”

Heyliger-Thomas has several future projects she is working on.

Currently, she is trying to get a grant to help provide support for maternal health and prevent maternal death nationwide. She is also working with the University of Guyana to offer a respiratory therapy program within the school.  

Bridges has worked with the Ministry of Public Health to provide care in the country. During a press conference in January of 2018 at Georgetown Public Hospital, Volda Lawrence, the minister of public health, and Dr. Karen Cummings, the minister within the ministry, explained how important the work that Bridges is doing for the country.

“We do not offer a first-world health service, but I can assure you that we are working towards that,” Lawrence said. “And we will reach our goals.”

Since she is close to retiring from being a physician, Heyliger-Thomas will make Bridges Global Medical Missions her primary focus. She hopes to work toward providing care to many other countries. Originally, her organization was just called Bridges Medical Missions, but after starting her missions and realizing that she wanted to go to places other than Guyana she added Global to expand her mission.

“My focus is not only Guyana,” she said. “My focus is to go to other places in the world.”

Featured image by Nigel Durrant

Five Reasons Why You Should Study Abroad

I have always been told that studying abroad is on the list of ‘College Must-Dos’ and I am glad I took advantage of the opportunity before I prepare to graduate in May. Here is a list of my top reasons to study abroad:

Personal development

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Texas State University professor, Sharon Armstead, waving to Georgetown Public Hospital doctors in the distance. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Visiting Guyana helped me in growing as a person and gaining a wider world perspective. Before our study abroad trip, I had a fixed image of what a developing country looked like, based off of images I had seen on television. When we arrived in Guyana, we found, as my colleague Ashley Skinner described in her recent blog post, “a community who makes use of the resources available to live the best possible life.”  During our trip, I grew as a person by being exposed to things that were out of my comfort zone and by learning life skills along the way.

Experience a new culture

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Texas State University mass communication student, Ashley Skinner (left), and respiratory care student, Xiomara Ojeda (middle), talk to woman (right) at local nursing home in Georgetown, Guyana. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Studying abroad allows students to gain a better understanding and appreciation for other cultures. Traveling to Guyana was my first exposure to a new culture and I took in every moment. From interacting with local people to understanding the way others live, I did my best to fully immerse myself in the experience.

Take in the view

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View of the Essequibo River from Baganara Island. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Have you heard of the saying, “Stop and smell the roses.”? Well, honestly, you should. When in another country, it is important to take time to become calm and reflect on your experience, and even find a deep appreciation for the beauty that surrounds you. During my trip to Guyana, my time of reflection filled me with a sense of gratitude for being fortunate enough to be having this new experience and for getting to see new things.

Eat new food

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Delicious meal prepared by Baganara Island Resort. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Wow, let me tell you – the amount of flavor packed into every meal is amazing! The great thing about Caribbean food in Guyana is the various Chinese, African and Indian influences. Although we ate chicken and rice just about every day, I enjoyed it all, especially the curried chicken and pepperpot. Wherever you go, go with an open mind and empty stomach because you are bound to find some new delicious foods!

Make lifelong friends

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Texas State University mass communication and respiratory care students before they embark on their trip for the day. Photo by Aubrey Odle.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, never did I think it was possible to feel this close to a group of people in such a short amount of time. Studying abroad allows you to connect with the people you are traveling with on a whole different level because you all are experiencing something for the first time together. I am happy to say that I will forever cherish the memories that were made on my trip and I will be closely connected to my group of friends.

Third time’s the charm

By Lindsey Blisard

Whether Shane Rodgers is fighting fires, giving CPR or intubating a patient, saving lives has always been on his daily agenda, and as a respiratory therapy student at Texas State University, Rodgers is discovering his new role as a part of his third career move.

In his adult life, Rodgers has done many things. He started in the Air Force, worked as a registered nurse when he was in his early 20s, and became a firefighter before he turned 30. Now, as a retired firefighter, he is ready for his next move: to become a respiratory therapist.

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Rodgers instructing nursing assistant students on chest compressions. Photo by Lindsey Blisard/Global News Team

“I don’t want to just totally retire,” he said. “I don’t necessarily want to work full time anymore, but I want to go back to school and just have that experience of only going to school.”

After weighing his options of what to go back to school for, Rodgers decided on respiratory therapy. It was something new and specialized enough to have a different feel from nursing. He has always had jobs that helped people, whether they were his patients or not, and this career move is not any different.

Rodgers said he wants to work part-time in a field that he still cares about. He was most excited about being a full-time student for the first time, since he had to work through nursing school when he was younger.

“I just wanted to go to school, study in the library, and be like a normal student,” he said. 

Rodgers, his wife, and two daughters live in Cedar Park, Texas. He has been doing his hospital rotations as the end of his days as a student go by. He has done his clinicals and internships in different hospitals and medical centers in the greater Austin area and will be ending his school year at the Cedar Park Regional Medical Center.

Rodgers said he prefers to be a general respiratory therapist so he can travel around the hospital and not be confined to just one area. He hopes he can continue to work in Cedar Park after he graduates in May. 

Recently, Rodgers went to Guyana with a group of four other respiratory therapy students and his professor, Sharon Armstead. There they delivered treatment and teachings to two hospitals in the country–Georgetown Public Hospital and Linden Hospital Complex.

Armstead calls Rodgers her “quiet leader” and said he showed so much concern in the hospital, yet remained calm with a strong presence in every room. She hopes that all of her students, including Rodgers, find their confidence of being a respiratory therapist within themselves.

“I want them to stay in the career… and see the value in their profession,” Armstead said. “I hope that [Rodgers] enjoys the passion that respiratory therapy can give you.”

After watching Rodgers working in the hospital, Armstead noted that what he excelled at was the teaching moments he had with the medical staff and even nursing assistant students.

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Rodgers working alongside Armstead in adjusting a patients ventilator tubing. Photo by Lindsey Blisard/Global News Team

Amber Hazelett, a newly registered respiratory therapist, went along with the Texas State students to Guyana and was there to provide support and instruction to the students and hospital staff. She was in the emergency room for a great part of the first day in Georgetown Public and worked alongside Rodgers.

“I do feel like Shane is ready to be a respiratory therapist,” said Hazelett. “He seems very prepared.”

When Rodgers thinks about the future for himself as a respiratory therapist, he said his and his family’s dream is to explore more of the world and take their careers with them. He and his wife are both in the medical field and they hope they can find work either abroad or travel to the east and west coasts with their children. 

People are the memories I will never forget

By Katie Burrell

I met so many different people in Guyana from children to elderly to travelers like me. Each person left a memory with me, allowing me to value my time in Guyana even more.

While abroad, we met people from the Ministry of Health who watched over us and helped us get places. They took us to hospitals, schools, and orphanage and a senior citizens home.

I’ll never forget my visit to McKenzie High School. We took a day off of working in the Linden hospital to visit the school and conduct asthma screening.

While we were there, I met students with big dreams of playing in the World Cup, visiting Canada and even a student who will be moving to Texas after she graduates. These students and their goals helped me realize, amid all the excitement, that I was living out one of my high school goals to leave the United States for travel.

While I was watching these kids play soccer in the courtyard, I realized I achieved my goal a few years later that 16 year-old had planned, but I think my trip to Guyana was right on time anyways. These kids inspired me to keep my goals high too, as I’m confident they will surely reach their’s too.

On our last day, one of my favorite memories was making 100 peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches to take to Sofia, a care center for children under 18 who may not have families. Our group hurried to make all of these sandwiches, load donations into two vans and hurry over to the senior home before meeting at Sofia to decorate and meet the kids.

While at the senior home I met with five people who had lived in Guyana all of their lives. There they met their spouse, raised their kids and worked their whole lives. They went to church, read books and told each other stories. Here I made memories listening to others share theirs and it assured me. The seniors talked to me about their travels, their great loves and even the little things they have done daily all their lives to enjoy happiness.

Much further in their lives than the students at the high school, I will remember the zest for life and living out their dreams these people had. One senior told me about her dream to have children and how she had two happy, healthy children who visit her every week. She told me about the joy of ready to grandchildren and sharing a meal with them each week.

The people of Guyana reminded me of the joy that comes from achieving goals and enjoying life as it comes.

When we went to the children’s home we witnessed pure happiness. I watched children run their fingers through their new books, run around with beach balls and stuff yummy peanut butter in their mouths.

In each of the places we went we saw happiness and laughter. We heard stories of dreams and goals being achieved. We exchanged stories of our cultures and of our families back home. I’m grateful to the people I met for being fun and entertaining but for reminding me, during a long journey away from home, why I was there.