Breathing new life into respiratory patient care

Watch above: Pigs lungs help demonstrate breathing

SASKATOON – It’s an information booth that’s hard to miss at Royal University Hospital.

On the table is a healthy set of lungs, bright pink and hooked up to a medical ventilator as they expand and contract. They also came from a pig but are as close to the real thing as you can get.

“The reason we use the pig lung is the anatomy of it is almost the same as the human lung so it gives us a really good idea of a display of what the human lung actually looks like and how the human lung expands with each breathe we take,” said Jeffery Dmytrowich, a respiratory therapist for the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR).

It’s the perfect model that’s catching the public’s attention and had on-site respiratory therapists fielding questions including what they do.

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“For respiratory therapists, the patients that were most involved in are the patients that cannot or have trouble breathing,” said Dmytrowich.

“We’re everywhere in the hospital. We’re not in a specific unit, emergency to labour and delivery all in one day,” explained SHR Respiratory Therapist Adele Sirois.

At present, there are 71 respiratory therapists in the health region treating patients of all ages.

“Rates of respiratory issues are climbing and we’re also getting better at diagnosing them early,” said Dmytrowich.

“Being a respiratory therapist, we do work with the premature babies to asthmatics to Cryptogenic Organizing Pneumonia (COP) type patients to patients with sleep disorders so it’s a constantly changing and evolving profession and we get to work the whole gamut.”

According to Dmytrowich, who has 15 years experience in the field, most of us take breathing for granted inhaling and exhaling up to 12 to 20 times a minute. For infants that number is 40 to 60 times a minute.

“All of a sudden when that’s taken away, it’s almost like drowning in the air around you so it’s quite a scary sensation for a lot of our patients,” explained Dmytrowich.

“As the patients begin to breath more on their own, our care kind subsides and we become more of a supportive and educational role in their care than more hands on.”

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Ways to avoid having to see a respiratory therapists include avoiding triggers if you have asthma and to steer clear of smoking.

“Not everyone  who has a respiratory disease has smoked and it’s definitely not a must but avoiding smoking is always a good thing. Just general cardiovascular health is always a very good thing, keep your lungs and your heart healthy they work very closely together and usually if you’re heart’s having a problem your lungs are as well,” added Sirois.

This week marks respiratory therapy week, as those who do this job are acknowledged for their contributions to patient care and their role within the system for the last 50 years.

Sirois who described herself as “new but loving it” has four years under her belt and admitted she didn’t know much about the profession until a few weeks before school.

“Every day is different, I knew that I didn’t want a desk job and so for me this has been perfect, every day is exciting. This morning I had a lady say her first word in six months and she was ecstatic so it’s exciting.”