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VC Respiratory Care Program grads on frontline in battle against COVID-19

Victoria College Respiratory Care Program graduates Paige Williams, left, and Savana Barela-Ramos pose by a ventilator at DeTar Hospital Navarro during one of their recent shifts.

Savana Barela-Ramos and Paige Williams never imagined being thrust into a situation like this.

The two graduates of Victoria College’s Respiratory Care Program are working tirelessly on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19. As respiratory therapists at DeTar Hospital Navarro, Barela-Ramos and Williams are essential in combatting the novel coronavirus, which attacks the lungs and other vital organs.

“We’re the ones who manage the airways, and that ranges from providing a breathing treatment for someone, to putting a tube into someone to help them breathe and putting them on a ventilator,” said Williams, who graduated from VC with an Associate of Applied Science degree in respiratory care in 2018. “The atmosphere has been really intense some days. We have a lot of anxiety, stress and pressure on us.”

“It is pretty stressful right now,” said Barela-Ramos, a 2010 VC graduate who is also a clinical instructor in VC’s Respiratory Care Program. “I was talking to my coworkers the other day, and it was super slow. It’s almost like that calm before the storm. We know we’re going to get hit harder, it’s just a matter of when. That's the biggest stress marker for a lot of us – the fear of the unknown. We just have to be prepared.”

Barela-Ramos and Williams left Victoria College feeling they were more than prepared to begin their new careers. VC’s Respiratory Care Program has consistently ranked among the top among community colleges nationwide. Last year, the program received the Distinguished Registered Therapist Credentialing Success Award from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. Candidates for the award must maintain a credentialing success rate of 90 percent or above.

“It is a very intense program, but you learn so much,” said the 28-year-old Williams, who is from Port Lavaca and also serves as an instructor at VC. “You don’t learn just about respiratory care in the program, you learn about the big picture. You have to think on your feet in our job. We’re in critical care, so we don’t have time to ask for advice. We need to know what we’re doing. VC’s program prepares you to be a professional and gave us every skill that we needed to do our jobs.”

Barela-Ramos, 33, worked at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Hospital for five years before joining DeTar Hospital Navarro. She remembers how impressed the staff at M.D. Anderson was with her knowledge and skills.

“They couldn’t believe that someone fresh out of school knew so much,” Barela-Ramos said. “VC doesn’t just have students practice or read about respiratory care. The students get hands-on training in both simulation labs and hospital settings. Some programs only allow observational experience in certain areas. People at other institutions know about VC‘s Respiratory Care Program. They can totally see the difference in the VC graduates.”

Barela-Ramos, who is from Victoria, and Williams begin their shifts not knowing what the day will bring, but they are encouraged with how the current crisis has created a bond among their coworkers.

“We’re trying to stay as healthy as we can, not only for ourselves but for the patients and our families,” said Barela-Ramos, who has three daughters – Olivia, 7; Ava, 4; and Mila, seven months. “My biggest fear is not me getting sick but bringing something home to my little ones or to my grandparents. Everyone is pulling together and just trying to keep the stress level down and pump each other up for what’s about to come.”

“It’s a rollercoaster ride, but I feel like our team is coming together, and we’re taking care of each other, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally,” said Williams, who has a 1-year-old daughter, Riley Rae. “We all have families who have come together and are taking care of each other’s kids. We have to work these crazy hours. It really is a crazy time, but it’s really a good feeling to see what’s going on with our team and seeing how much we have come together to fight this.”