I started working nights in the respiratory care department and when I was able to obtain a day shift position I volunteered to learn pulmonary function testing. When I started, I would perform 1 or 2 tests per week.
After a short time I started to participate in the asthma clinic, then I started working in the cystic fibrosis clinic.
Within a few months I was performing tests on patients from outlying physicians who wanted patients checked for breathing-related problems. Shortly thereafter I became the respiratory therapist for Akron Children’s Lewis H. Walker Cystic Fibrosis Center.
Over time, the position was made full time and I ran the pulmonary function test (PFT) lab. When I first started doing the tests, we hand calculated all the information from graph paper, a marker that moved up and down when the patient was breathing.
When they performed the maneuver it all printed to the graph paper. Once the test was done it took about 30 minutes to calculate all the information, transfer it to a paper report and get it to the physician.
When we got our first computer-driven device, we did the test, printed the results and sent them directly to the physician. What a difference this made.
When I started working with patients with cystic fibrosis the median age of survival was about 13 years old. Now that number is reaching 40.
I’ve been able to watch these children grow into adults. I have celebrated high school graduations, weddings and the birth of their children. Advances in treatment and technology have lengthened the age of survival for these patients and we now see patients in their 50’s and 60’s.
Our CF center was involved in many of these research studies and many are still conducted at our center today. We still hold an adult clinic at Akron Children’s and have a unit designed specifically for these patients. I know how much these patients appreciate the consistency of care that Akron Children’s provides.
One time when I went to see a patient who was in the PICU, I was told it was family admittance only. The family heard that and told the nurse that I was family and wanted me to come in.
Dr. Robert Stone told me when I started working in the CF clinic that “we become part of their extended family.” This proved true to me at that point.
That was probably one of the most memorable times that I had during my career and I knew that I was making a difference in at least some of my patients’ lives.
I still try to follow Dr. Stone’s philosophy today and treat my patients and families as I would want to be treated when having to deal with such a significant disease.
I am very lucky to have my job here. I work with a group of wonderful people and GREAT physicians. I have seen so many changes and growth.
Our department has gone from about 9 employees to well over 30. We see patients in pulmonary specialty clinics in about 6 different locations.
With our EMR and network testing for PFTs we can see patients in any of our locations and access their medical information and previous pulmonary function test results. We see approximately 4,000 patients per year in our PFT lab and perform close to 5,000 procedures on these patients.
I’m currently enrolled in The University of Akron, using the tuition reimbursement program that Akron Children’s provides. I plan to graduate in December.
I have been very blessed to become part of this great institution.
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About Susan Kelly
Susan Kelly is the pulmonary function lab coordinator at Akron Children's Hospital.