October is RSV Awareness Month, and for one AARC member, that has special meaning.
It was December of 2002. Nikki Ervin, RRT-NPS, and her young family embarked on a road trip from their home in Southern California to Arkansas to spend Christmas with family. During the drive nine-week-old Olivia developed a cough and some slightly labored breathing.
Shortly after they arrived, Ervin took the baby to a local ER, where she was diagnosed with bronchiolitis, treated with steroids, and released. She didn’t get any better during their stay, but she didn’t get any worse either, and after the holidays the Ervins packed the baby and their two other small children — just one and two years old — into the car and headed back west.
They only got as far as Amarillo, TX. Olivia’s condition had worsened and they quickly pulled into the ER at a local hospital. Clinicians did a nasal swab on the baby and her two siblings. All three had RSV. “But for Olivia it was much worse because she was so young,” recalls Ervin. “JJ and Lilly only had a slight cough and runny nose.”
Olivia received more steroids and a nebulizer treatment and the family headed on their way.
Next stop, Kingman, AZ, and a hospitalization that would set the stage for Ervin’s future. “She was in pretty bad respiratory distress, very labored breathing and even turning slightly bluish around her mouth,” says Olivia’s mom. “We raced her into the ER. They took her straight back, before we even checked in. It was terrifying. Like something you see in a movie or on TV. IVs, nebs, O2, monitor — everything.”
The family ended up spending six days in the hospital, and it was there that Ervin met the respiratory therapists she credits for leading her into the profession. “My husband and I were young, scared, and none of our family was close. All we had was the hospital staff,” she says. “The respiratory therapists were awesome!”
They went out of their way
She remembers being so scared that first night in the ER, for example, that she just wanted to call her mom and talk to her. The RT on duty found a phone and brought it to her. “She made sure that happened even though it was long distance. Remember, this was a time before iPhones were even invented — no FaceTime or social media,” says Ervin. “Just old fashioned phones.”
Once they were in a room, Ervin says the compassion continued. In addition to treating Olivia for her RSV, therapists took the time to hold her and bond with her and they also brought in cards and board games to help her parents pass the time. They educated the Ervins on RSV and bronchiolitis as well.
“The really went out of their way to spend time with her and us and show that they cared,” says Ervin.
Knowledge stuck with her
Olivia would go on to suffer regular bouts of bronchiolitis until she was about four years old, and Ervin says the care and education she had received from those Arizona RTs stuck with her throughout it all. “I remembered all of the education that the RTs in the Arizona hospital had taught me — how to perform CPT, ways to give a proper neb treatment, the importance of humidity, the signs to look for that point to a trip to the ED,” says the therapist. “Their education and advice was so beneficial during that time. I remembered how calm they were when dealing with her so I tried to draw on that myself.”
She also started to think about doing the same for other people with lung problems. When Olivia was ready to start school, Ervin enrolled in the RT program at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, CA, graduating with top honors in 2009 — in part, she believes, due to the experience she had gained taking care of her daughter.
The family moved to Arkansas to be closer to family shortly thereafter, and after a number of years working as a therapist in the hospital setting, Ervin took on a clinical specialist role at Vapotherm, where she remains today.
Happy and healthy
As for Olivia, she’s now a beautiful young lady who will soon be turning 14. “Nobody could have convinced me early in her life of exactly just how awesome and healthy she would be as she grew up,” says her mom. “Now she is about to turn 14 and she is 5’10” and very athletic. She’s healthy, energetic, and one of the best people I know.”
Ervin says she’s used her experience with Olivia many times in her career. “Often many of my patients I would see over and over. Because they had been hospitalized early in life with RSV they seemed to have a higher incidence of respiratory infections,” says the therapist. “This is very disheartening to parents. Trust me, I went through that with Olivia. Just having a child who seems to constantly have respiratory infections makes you question if they will ever have a normal life.”
When parents would wonder if their child would ever do normal kid things like running around outside, riding a bike, or going swimming, she would tell them what she went through with her daughter — and how it turned out. “I had a story of hope and encouragement for parents when they started to feel like that. I can’t say I’d want to go through it again but I do feel that some blessing was able to come from it. So in that way I am thankful to have our story.”
RSV Awareness Month
October is a great time to get out in your communities and educate the public about RSV and the role respiratory therapists play in caring for children with the disease. The National Coalition for Infant Health is urging clinicians involved in RSV to use the hashtag #RSVAwareness to raise awareness of RSV on social media, and you can also visit the AARC’s Local Public Relations is Effective Public Relations page for tips on connecting with your local media outlets. Many of them will be interested in covering RSV stories this month. And since National Respiratory Care Week is kicking off on the 23rd, you have double the reason to reach out and get involved!