The passion Rebecca Higdon, MS, RRT, has for the respiratory care profession was born out of tragedy. Her first child came into the world at 1 lb. 13 oz., about six months before surfactant was introduced as the standard of care in treating underdeveloped lungs in preemies. He developed infant respiratory distress syndrome and tracheal stenosis and required a tracheostomy.
Immediately, she found herself immersed in the world of respiratory care as a family caregiver. When her son lost his battle with these complications of prematurity, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.
“When he died at 16 months old, I was already on-the-job trained,” she said. ”I knew my purpose had to be to make his life worth meaning, so I went to school to be a respiratory therapist.”
However, she probably never imagined that one of her subsequent children would follow her into the profession. But her daughter Mariah did just that. And today, this mother-daughter team of RTs shares an extra special bond because of it.
They always knew what it meant to be an RT
Rebecca says both of her girls grew up understanding the mission their mom was on to make a difference for those who can’t breathe well on their own.
“When my girls were small, they would go to the respiratory lab with me and intubate the baby heads and play with the equipment while I prepared for the next day’s skill competencies,” said the program director of the respiratory therapy program at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College and PRN therapist at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Lakeview, both in Elizabethtown, KY. “I never protected them from the realities of what the job of a therapist is — they have always understood that it is life and death.”
Mariah Higdon, RRT, RRT-ACCS, remembers thinking most of what her mom did as a therapist revolved around making sure people didn’t smoke cigarettes when she was a young child. “As I got older and realized more of what she actually did, I knew I wanted to also do something along those lines,” she said. “Her passion for respiratory care is inspiring, and that’s ultimately what lead me into the profession.”
A PRN therapist at Norton Audubon Hospital in Louisville, KY, who also works as a travel therapist, Mariah says her favorite part of being an RT is the challenge the job presents.
“Every day on the job is different . . . being able to work through those challenges with the knowledge and skills I have learned from seasoned therapists like my mom is very rewarding,” Mariah said.
For her mom, the best part of the job is looking back through the years to all the RTs she has helped develop.
“I feel great pride in our profession and have a tremendous heart for patients that need the services we provide,” Rebecca said.
Thankful and blessed
How has working in the same profession played out for this mother-daughter team on a personal level? Rebecca says having one of her daughters share her profession gives them just one more thing to discuss when the family gathers around the dinner table.
“My husband and other daughter roll their eyes at us, but secretly we know they like the stories,” she said.
For Mariah, having the support of a mother who also works in RT is priceless. And that unique benefit has been especially true over the past year.
“I’m very lucky to have someone close to me that understands the highs and lows of respiratory care,” she said. “It’s such a rewarding job, but a lot of days can be hard, especially during the pandemic. Having someone to vent to and cry to who truly understands is something I’m really thankful for.”
Knowing her daughter may be placing herself in harm’s way to care for patients during COVID-19 has been challenging for Rebecca, but she has learned to put the dangers in perspective.
“As a mom, I have thought during the worst of the pandemic, ‘Oh my, what have I done? I’ve led my baby out to the wolves!’ But then, I have stepped back, taken my own deep breath, prayed, and believed that she will be okay,” she said. “If I need respiratory services in the next few years, I want my girl to take care of me. I am thankful and blessed to have a daughter that is an RRT-ACCS.”
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