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    So others may breathe - Navy Medicine Respiratory Therapist cares for COVID casualties

    So others may breathe - Navy Medicine Respiratory Therapist cares for COVID casualties

    Photo By Douglas Stutz | So others may breath…Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Tessa Hazard, a respiratory...... read more read more

    When U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Tessa Hazard chose to become a respiratory therapist, part of the specialty allure was a limited chance of deployment.

    Yet, the ongoing pandemic has called upon Navy Medicine respiratory therapists like Hazard to be sent from sea to shore to help against the highly-infectious disease.

    Whether it’s embarking overseas on a Navy nuclear aircraft carrier or traveling to a rural hospital setting in America, corpsmen with respiratory therapist skills have demonstrated that they are indeed a ready medical force when called upon.

    “Readiness is big time for us,” said Hazard. “When I chose respiratory therapist I thought it was a very low deployable platform and wouldn’t have that big of a risk to leave my family – young twins - behind to deploy. Now COVID hits and we’re being deployed on every platform which we probably would have never gone on before and all these CONUS [continental U.S.] deployments which are still ongoing.”

    Hazard recently returned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton after deploying on behalf of Joint Task Force Civil Support for approximately eight weeks to Ozark, Alabama. As a member of Navy Medicine’s Medical Response Team Ozark, Hazard and other active duty nurses, providers and hospital corpsmen were integrated into Dale Medical Center as part of the Department of Defense COVID response operations in conjunction with U.S. Northern Command and Federal Emergency Management Agency to help overwhelmed hospital staff deal with an influx of COVID-19 patients.

    According to Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Rutledge, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit Everett officer in charge and team lead, there was a need for Hazard and HM2 Sebastien Fontanges, assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego, both respiratory therapists, to get acclimated as soon as possible due to the departure of more than half of Alabama hospital’s respiratory therapist staff just prior to their arrival.

    “Which put them in lead support, with the challenge of what readiness really means in this new environment. Hazard and Fontanges were a great team in a unique opportunity to serve fellow Americans right in their hometowns using the skills the Navy taught them. They did it very well,” explained Rutledge.

    “Without us, they would have had to shut down certain parts of the hospital without having enough people to staff shifts. They were very grateful to have us there to help them out. That was what everyone was saying, how thankful they were that they were being supported by our team. We could tell they were exhausted when we got there. They were overworked and happy to have relief,” added Hazard, an Oxnard, Calif. native with nine years of Navy experience.

    With COVID-19 being a respiratory disease, those afflicted can have their lungs fill with fluid. Inflammation can set in. Patients have low oxygen levels and trouble breathing. Hazard was in high demand. She was charged with helping patients’ breath and deal with any airway problems. She provided 180 hours of direct clinical care for 96 patients on a 25-bed COVID unit, seven-bed intensive care unit and 12-bed emergency department. She even volunteered four hours to mentor 150 students at Ozark High School on career opportunities in Navy Medicine and the military as a whole.

    It proved to be an emotionally challenging assignment, yet one she trained for and was prepared to handle. She wanted to be able to provide patient-centered care in an inpatient setting, which was exactly what she did.

    “I often worked in the intensive care unit, managing the ventilators for the patients, also doing medication therapy with inhalers and nebulizers to either open their lungs, or break up the mucus in their lungs,” said Hazard. “Some patients were just on oxygen so there was a need to monitor their oxygen levels. We also used high-flow oxygen for higher pressure and level of oxygen and a regular nasal cannula, which is used to provide additional oxygen to someone needing respiratory assistance.”

    The majority of her patients were COVID-19 cases. Those suffering from severe COVID-19 needed intubation, even a tracheal tube, along with ventilation support.

    “I felt I was doing my part to contribute in some way against the pandemic. Respiratory therapists have been overworked and extremely busy this entire time because it’s a respiratory disease,” said Hazard.

    There were fatalities. Hazard estimates that were approximately 10 deaths attributed to COVID-19 when she was there. In the rural setting, that number hit home to many.

    “I had my first code [patient dying]. The patient didn’t make it and was 20 years old, the youngest patient who had a lot of health issues prior to COVID. It was my first time experiencing having patient die in front of me and we couldn’t help,” Hazard said.

    “One of the first patients who passed away was related to someone in the hospital,” continued Hazard. “Everyone who worked there knew who that person was. It affected the whole hospital. And the young patient, that hit home, too. Other patients, they were in the hospital for so long, up to two months, that even though they were unconscious most of the time, you got to know them. They started to get better and then all of a sudden they crash. In that inpatient setting, you got close to them, then they’re gone. We thought they were getting better, yet being unvaccinated they didn’t make it. When there’s a loss, it hits everyone.”

    One patient who did leave lost all other family members to COVID.

    “There was a whole family dying in one hospital due to the disease. Very tragic,” Hazard said, adding that despite the loss, there were patients who did pull through.

    “They were there the entire time we were there. Right before leaving they got discharged. They just appreciated everything we were doing for them. I’d go in there to help with their respiratory needs and would end up also helping with other stuff like their blanket. Helping with those little things technically was not part of my job but it’s what we do for those we care for. The staff were also very appreciative,” Hazard said.

    Hazard was notified about a week before she departed she was leaving for Alabama. Once at Dale Medical Center, her and the rest of the Navy Medicine personnel spent several days going through hospital orientation, which included job-shadowing to get the lay of the land. They then teamed up with local staff and started their assigned shifts. Hazard was put on night shift, working 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., along with an emergency room nurse, ICU nurse, medical surgical nurse, and a doctor. Despite the long hours, she attests that one of the most difficult parts of being deployed as simply being away from her young twins and husband back at home.

    “It was hard missing them. It was really hard losing patients. No matter what path you’re following, this pandemic proves you have no idea what’s going to happen,” stated Hazard.



    Date Taken: 12.01.2021
    Date Posted: 12.01.2021 11:35
    Story ID: 410238
    Location: BREMERTON, WA, US

    Web Views: 1,401
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