Local respiratory therapist is ‘right there’ in hospital’s fight against coronavirus

Nikki Gilsinn

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

After graduating from Rockwood Summit High School, Nikki Gilsinn was interested in attending nursing school, but the closest school with openings was too far away. 

A director of Sanford Brown College asked Gilsinn whether she had ever heard of respiratory therapy.

She had not but learned more and ended up pursuing it as a career. She has worked at St. Luke’s Hospital for the past 15 years.

“I’m so glad I did because I love what I do, and we work alongside nurses,” said Gilsinn, 38, who belongs to United Hebrew Congregation. “In respiratory, in one given day, we could work with little newborn babies all the way up to a 90-year old. It’s fun, especially in Missouri because there is so much asthma and allergies around that we are really needed.” 

Respiratory therapy involves tasks such as performing pulmonology tests, providing nebulizer treatments and diagnosing patients who need oxygen for home use.

Lately, these therapists have been helping with a new ailment: COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

“We are literally right next to these patients, either assisting the doctors with putting patients on breathing machines or, if patients are not sick enough to be in the intensive care unit, we are right there giving these patients inhalers, just really helping them get better, making sure they are breathing OK, making sure their oxygen level stays above a certain percentage,” Gilsinn said. 

Gilsinn also routinely checks the patients’ breathing machines to make sure their lungs are getting stronger; suctions mucus from their lungs; and in some cases, when patients recover, removes the breathing tubes. Gilsinn, wearing personal protective equipment, has to wait in the patient’s room for 15 minutes to make sure that no virus particles escape. 

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One patient who was in the hospital for three weeks “got better by a miracle of God, and they got discharged,” Gilsinn said.

“Just seeing them see their family for the first time, it really hit me because I get to go home and see my family every day, thank God,” said Gilsinn, a mother of two. “They never saw their wife or family member for this whole time, and they got to leave and see their family, and it was a really big deal.” 

If a COVID patient agrees, when he or she is discharged from the hospital, the staff plays Kool & the Gang’s “Celebrate” over the intercom. The staff forms a line and dances around the entrance.

“It’s making a little light out of a really bad situation,” Gilsinn said. 

And during this pandemic, Gilsinn finally feels celebrated. 

“This is the first time really in my respiratory career that we are being acknowledged for what we do and where people actually know what a respiratory therapist is,” she said. “The team at St. Luke’s Hospital is amazing, and we have all really come together during this, along with nurses and doctors, so that’s really cool to see.”