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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. 

Eating food Guyanese style

One of the main questions that we have been asked since we arrived back home from Guyana has to do a lot with what it is that we ate. Luckily, we have some photographic evidence of that very thing!

While we were tired of eating chicken and rice towards the end of our trip, we did eat many new things that most of the students had never tried before.

Stewed Chicken with Fruit
Usually with our lunch and dinner we were always served with fruits and vegetables. Pictured here clockwise is stewed chicken, boiled pumpkin, collard greens, baby banana, papaya, and rice with beans.
Pepper Pot
Pepperpot is the national dish of Guyana. It is made of meat that is stewed in a preservative made of cassava, cinnamon, and sugar. This dish is popular for both breakfast and dinner and is typically kept on the stovetop at all times.
Curry Chicken
After a shift at Georgetown Public Hospital, we went to a local restaurant and had a mix of Indo-Guyanese food. Pictured here is curried chicken.
Stewed Chicken with Rice
Our first meal of arriving in Guyana was stewed chicken, rice, long bean, and a dish called cook up–a mix of rice and vegetables.
Burger King
Guyana did have many American chains. One day for lunch, we ordered Burger King. A few of the other restaurants were Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Church’s Chicken, and Popeye’s.
Resort Food
Baganara Island Resort served us barbecued chicken, rice with veggies, potato salad, and fresh mango juice.
Chipz
A lot of their snack foods in the grocery stores were very generic names–Chipz and Tortillaz was a good example of this.
OMG Restaurant
OMG! Steakhouse is an Americanized steakhouse that had lots of options like steak, fried chicken, and even a philly cheesesteak sandwich. These places seem to be more appealing to the tourist crowd.

Georgetown Public Hospital receives knowledge, training about respiratory care

By Ashley Skinner

A group of Texas State University respiratory therapy students traveled to Guyana over the winter break to assist nurses and provide training to the developing nation.

Sheik Amir, director of medical and professional services at Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, said there is a need for the specialty in Guyana.

“Respiratory care is a program we are trying to train our nurses to do more and more,” Amir said. “It has its advantages as a specialty, as it relieves nurses from doing all of the duties. A dedicated person doing something is always better than someone doing something they have to do only when they have a bit of time.”

Located in the northeastern tip of South America, Guyana is home to 10 hospitals in the private and public sectors. Respiratory diseases in the country are not regularly documented, due to the insufficient equipment to diagnose the problems, said Sharon Armstead, a respiratory therapist and Texas State University clinical assistant professor who led the study abroad program to Guyana.

“If you look at the diagnostic numbers, they’ll be low,” Armstead said.

According to the numbers that are reported, Guyana ranks second highest in asthma mortality rates. Graphic by Ashley Skinner/Global News Team

“This is because you can’t report a disease if you don’t have the tools to diagnose it.” 

While the diseases are not frequently detected, they do not go unnoticed.

“I hope the hospital staff will learn more developed procedures from the [respiratory care] team,” said Elizabeth Gonsalves, deputy CEO of Georgetown Public Hospital. “We are happy to have Texas State here to help us deal with the respiratory problems of Guyana.”

The Ministry of Public Health oversees the delivery of health care services throughout Guyana, as well as distributes funds to hospitals from the financial resources allocated to the Ministry.

“I take great pride in my country,” said the Honorable Volda Lawrence, the minister of public health. “The ministry is doing everything it can to make Guyana a First World country health system.”

Amir said a lack of funding plays a big part in the country not having respiratory therapy as a specialty in the country.

“There won’t be any funding until we have a person here telling us what we need for the specialty,” Amir said. “If you don’t think of something, you won’t be budgeting for it. Now that it’s being put out there and talked about, people will start looking at how to grow the profession.”

With funding allocated to the hospital for equipment, more places than just the emergency room will be able to tend to respiratory problems.

“Getting respiratory therapy brought to Guyana is definitely something we want and need to look into,” Gonsalves said. “Respiratory care as a specialty will help our hospital be able to have more diagnosis stations than just the ER, as that is where most of the diagnoses’ happen.”

Additionally, Gonsalves said there are plans to discuss growing this profession at the board level in due time, as respiratory diseases are becoming a bigger problem.

Originally from Guyana, Armstead remembers her asthma acting up as a child in the country due to the mining for bauxite in the town of Linden.

“Coming back here my asthma still gets bad when I go to Linden,” Armstead said. “When we come to this city, my chest gets a little tighter and it’s harder to breathe.”

Armstead travels to Guyana at least once a year on mission trips through Bridges Global Medical Missions. This organization is also the one that led the study abroad trip, headed by the Atlanta-based nonprofit’s vice president and medical director, Claudette Heyliger-Thomas.

“We wanted to bring Texas State and respiratory therapy to this country in hopes to push patient care to where it needs to be,” Heyliger-Thomas said.

In the Georgetown Public intensive care unit, students Xiomara Ojeda, Jacki Brewer and Stephanie Kelly listen as Armstead tells them their duties for the day. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team

“I’m glad they have gotten to experience what the medial world is like in a developing country.”

The CHEST foundation, an organization dedicated to championing lung health by supporting clinical research, patient education and community service, awarded Armstead a $11,530 grant to fund the donation of respiratory medical equipment to the Georgetown and Linden hospitals.

“We plan to donate as much equipment as we can because we want Guyana to see the importance of respiratory care,” Armstead said. “When I look around, I see nurses, not respiratory therapists. You can’t have a hospital without this profession and I believe we can bring it to Guyana.”