Heather Chang | Respiratory Therapist, Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital
Heather Chang, 31, knew she always wanted to work in the medical field, but when her school advisor introduced her to respiratory therapy, she knew she’d found her niche. “After researching the field, I realized how much the heart and lungs worked in tandem. Honestly, that’s what fascinated me,” she says. After completing respiratory school two years ago, Heather moved from Chattanooga to work at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
Among other things, respiratory therapists are responsible for operating ventilators and performing medicated breathing treatments, two crucial pieces of care for COVID-19 patients. Since the coronavirus hit in March, Heather has found herself in high-demand and even volunteered to work shifts on the COVID floor.
Back in July, Heather contracted the virus herself. “That was one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. Her fiancé also ended up contracting the virus and she says his case was even worse than hers. “He had a fever for about twelve days. I thought I was going to have to take him to the hospital!” Though the two of them are now fully recovered, Heather says she still suffers from side effects. “My sense of taste and smell isn’t completely back. I have continued shortness of breath and chest pains.”
When asked about one of the more inspiring moments in her job since the start of the pandemic she says that teamwork, which has always been an important role, has taken on a new meaning in recent months. “We’ve become [more] conscious of each other, making sure that if we are gowned and about to go into a COVID patient room, we ask if there is anything that we can do while we are in there to lessen the exposure. Teamwork has never mattered more!” Her hospital even assigned helpers to assist staff in suiting up in PPE to enter COVID positive rooms.
Heather is inspired by her mother, Connie, who is her personal Wonder Woman. “She sometimes worked 16-hour days just to make sure we had everything we needed. I know she sacrificed things that she wanted and needed for me. Though I haven’t been the easiest child, I am grateful for the person she has raised me to be.”