Story and photo by Maj. Kelli Metzger
10th Combat Support Hospital
BAGHDAD – From oxygen therapy to nebulizer treatments to ventilator management, respiratory therapists bring the breath of life. Medical Task Force 10 has four respiratory therapists assigned at Ibn Sina Hospital in Baghdad: Sgt. 1st Class Robert Collins, Sgt. 1st Class Craig Squires, Staff Sgt. Terrilyn Williams and Sgt. Sedrick McDaniel. Squires and Williams began their Army careers as combat medics, McDaniel started out as a pharmacy technician, while Collins was a combat lifesaver in the infantry. At some point, all four decided to pursue respiratory therapy.
Squires began his journey toward being a respiratory therapist after being assigned to Nuremberg, Germany, deployed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and then was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. He returned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in January 1995 to attend Respiratory Therapy School, a nine-month program, and passed the National Board for Respiratory Care exam, which is the equivalent of an associate degree.
Collins and Williams are also certified RTs. Williams became interested in respiratory therapy when she was in the same platoon as some respiratory therapists at Fort Campbell, Ky., from February 1994 through April 1997. In May 1998, she attended the respiratory therapy school. Following four years in the infantry, Collins reclassified to a Combat Medic and attended the respiratory therapy school in 2001. McDaniel chose to become a respiratory therapist when he re-enlisted in 2006.
The four RTs at Ibn Sina Hospital have a variety of experience in the field. Both Squires and Williams have worked with newborns. Squires’ first assignment as a respiratory therapist was at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, where he worked in the emergency room, the intensive care unit and on the wards.
“We were very busy at Tripler, and I gained many skills there,” said Squires. He said that one of the best experiences at Tripler was providing respiratory therapy to the newborns. Because of that work, he was selected as the respiratory therapist on medical flights transporting newborns from Tripler to San Diego and San Francisco.
Williams attributes the start of her respiratory therapy on newborns to David Park, her clinical instructor. She later gained experience working with newborns at the Air Force’s Wilford Hall Hospital in San Antonio while stationed at Brooke Army Medical Center, Texas. She became a clinical instructor working with Park for the respiratory therapist school from November 2003-July 2004. Because of her previous experience, Williams was able to provide respiratory therapy to an infant born prematurely at Ibn Sina Hospital during the current deployment.
Squires and Collins were both assigned to the Institute of Surgical Research at BAMC. At the ISR they provided respiratory therapy for an average of seven patients per day and gained experience in new models of ventilation including a volumetric diffusive respirator.
“This was my best duty assignment. The work was intense, but very rewarding,” said Squires.
Collins agreed with Squires. “This was my best experience as a respiratory therapist.”
While at the ISR, they also served on the flight team which flew to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, to pick up patients injured in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Collins, Squires and Williams have all been the RT in many patient transfers, providing oxygen therapy to patients.
“Transports is one of my favorite parts of the job,” said Collins.
On one air evacuation of a patient from Ibn Sina to Balad, quick thinking by Collins and Capt. Rachel Karcher, a Task Force 10 ICU nurse, saved the life of the patient being transported.
McDaniel’s first assignment as an RT was at Womack Army Medical Center at Ft. Bragg, N.C., providing a variety of pulmonary and respiratory care.
“Other RTs said they learned a lot of their RT skills during deployment,” he said. “I have seen more respiratory care here than I usually do at Fort Bragg.”
McDaniel is thankful to be working with the other RTs at Ibn Sina.
“I have more than 30 years of RT experience at my disposal,” he said.
The other RTs agree that this deployment has been a great experience for them so far.
Williams and McDaniel said they like the caliber of doctors and nurses they have worked with and the way patient information is presented during daily rounds.
Williams said, “The communication is excellent; everyone knows what is expected of them on the health care team. I feel confident making decisions concerning patient care.”
The RTs have had opportunities to share their knowledge with other staff and patients during the deployment. Squires assisted Internist Col. Joseph Pina in teaching basic airway management as part of the biweekly Mountain Medic ICU Inservice Lecture series. He also traveled with Pina to Medical City, an Iraqi hospital in Baghdad, to provide home health ventilator instruction to family members of two patients who were on ventilators. The RTs presented inservices on the impact ventilators in the ER and Williams and McDaniel provided respiratory inservices to Iraqi doctors participating in the medical professional partnership with TF 10 providers at Ibn Sina Hospital. In addition, Williams recently provided TF 10 staff with classes on asthma management.
RTs are involved in many areas of patient care including nebulizer treatments, sleep studies, broncoscopies, ventilator management and pulmonary functions tests.
“Whenever there is an emergency, RT is one of the first services called. That speaks volumes as to our importance,” Collins said.
RTs bring the breath of life to patients.
“You can’t live without air,” said Williams.