A day in the life of a Fort Smith respiratory therapist


"We've been through some other viruses, and nothing has been as challenging as this one has for us."

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — For months now, Arkansas frontline fighters have been saving lives during this COVID-19 pandemic.

KNWA/FOX 24 spoke to a respiratory therapist and a pulmonary function lab coordinator on October 29, about the grim reality people in the medical field have been facing.

When you see us in the black uniforms you do begin to feel like the grim reaper after awhile.


Lisa Shelton is a respiratory therapist at Mercy Fort Smith.

“These patients once they are admitted to us, they do struggle to breathe,” Shelton said.

She said in her more than 30 years in the profession, COVID-19 has been like nothing she’s ever dealt with before.

“The patients believe it or not are all ages,” Shelton said. “We’ve had very young people in their 20s up until their 80s and 90s, since the start of this.”

There are a wide range of emotions getting to celebrate the many successes.

It’s been hard, but our group has been with it for a long time, and all worked together very very well and so we help each other out and get it done.


“We’re going to be here for you,” Shelton said. “We’re going to get you through this.” 

It’s also hard having the difficult job of watching a patient die from COVID-19.

“That’s really hard,” Shelton said. “I had one Monday.”

These last eight months have been nothing short of challenging, but Shelton hopes it reminds us the importance of making sure we’re protecting others.

“I still go out in public periodically and that’s heartbreaking for us who work in healthcare to see people without a mask who don’t take this seriously,” Shelton said.

Debi Barker is a pulmonary function lab coordinator at Mercy Fort Smith.

In the more than 30 years she’s been in the profession, she’s dealt with many different viruses, but COVID-19 has been one of the hardest.

From head to toe, she’s constantly having to be in PPE, and has to change it out every patient.

Despite the many hardships, Barker and her team have overcome most obstacles.

“I’ve been here 37 years,” Barker said. “Just taking care of our patients and seeing them being able to leave and be in better health and train them on their breathing, and have a little bit better life than they came in with is one of the most rewarding things.”

To date, Baker said none of her co-workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and for that she’s grateful.

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