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Respiratory Therapists Vital to Post-COVID Recovery

PATIENTS RECOVERING FROM COVID-19 face many obstacles, even once free from the disease. In addition to being weakened, their breathing capacity is compromised, making it challenging to regain mobility. Runnymede’s respiratory therapists play a vital role in helping these patients – like Bibi – achieve their rehabilitation goals.

Bibi overcame a 44-day battle with COVID-19 before being admitted for rehabilitation in July 2020.

During her stay in acute care, she had respiratory failure and was put on a ventilator in an intensive care unit (ICU). Extreme measures were needed to help her survive.

“I can’t remember much from what happened while I was in the ICU, except that I had tubes all around me, and I couldn’t talk, or even eat or drink,” she said. “It was horrible. My family told me later that the doctors didn’t know if I would make it.”

Bibi persevered, but her harrowing ordeal left her unable to safely return home. Unable to get out

of bed or walk without help, she entered Runnymede’s slow stream rehab program, which delivers low-intensity rehabilitation.

“It’s common for patients who have gone through COVID-19 to face additional obstacles to recovery compared to other patients in our rehabilitation programs,” said Geeta Grewal, then Director of Patient Care, and now Vice President, Risk, Quality, and Clinical Transformation at Runnymede. “Their capacity to breathe effectively is often much lower, which results in an elevated heart rate, shortness of breath and a tendency to become exhausted very easily.”

The hospital’s physiotherapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) created a patient-centred treatment plan to help restore Bibi’s independence so she could return home.

However, the plan was challenging to execute because Bibi could

not tolerate exertion without extreme fatigue. The hospital’s staff respiratory therapist (RT) was essential in ensuring her therapy would succeed.

“Our RT supports therapy by being at the patient’s side to monitor their heart rate and oxygen saturation while PTs and OTs provide therapy,” explained Grewal. “The RT administers supplemental oxygen as it’s needed so patients can get the maximum benefit from therapy sessions before they become too tired to safely continue.”

Runnymede’s RT also educated Bibi about breathing strategies that conserve oxygen. She was taught diaphragmatic breathing, which strengthened her respiratory muscles.

A week and a half after admission to Runnymede, these strategies paid off: Bibi could complete her exercises without supplemental oxygen. Around the same

time, she became less reliant on her walker and could walk independently.

On August 5, 2020 – three weeks after her admission to Runnymede, and 70 days after her initial hospitalization for COVID-19 – Bibi was discharged home.

“I wanted to get back to my family, and my job, and the team here helped me get there,” she said. “I’m so happy to be going back home again.”