Savannah Stuard, RRT, has never viewed herself as someone out of the ordinary. But as soon as people see her and what she’s been able to accomplish, they beg to differ.
Born with just one hand, she has not only participated in sports like gymnastics and karate, but entered the respiratory care profession and, most recently, worked in one of the most hard-hit areas of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This past May, she also received a special honor when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made her his choice for The Real Heroes Project.
Finding a way
Stuard has been an RT for two and a half years now – when asked how she picked the profession she says it just kind of fell into her lap. “A God thing,” she says. “I didn’t choose it; I think it chose me.”
She earned her AS degree from Lone Star College in Kingwood, TX, in 2017, and admits it was little bit of an uphill battle to get her instructors to see her potential. But she gives them a great deal of credit for giving her a chance and helping her reach her goals.
“My teachers and clinical instructors were amazing,” says Stuard. “I think for sure when they saw me, they had their doubts . . . but when they saw how driven I was with hands- on clinical’s, they gained more confidence in my skills.” She says they were always there to help her figure out a way to work around her lack of a second hand. “I really challenged them sometimes,” she says.
One of the toughest skills to master was using an ambu bag in a code situation. “You need to open the airway and bag the bag, and it requires two hands,” she says. “I open the airway with my good hand and I push the ambu bag against my body and push it with my little arm to give breaths.”
One big boost
But the biggest challenge she has seen so far in her career has definitely been COVID-19.
“I work at Ochsner Medical Center in Louisiana,” explains Stuard. “We got hit very hard with COVID.” During the worst of the outbreak, she says they were running 145 ventilators at a time – the normal number is around 40-59.
At one point she was managing 11 vents all by herself. “Just me alone,” she says now. Like many RTs working in hotspots over the past six months, she has felt the effects on her own health and wellbeing.
“I have been working with COVID patients since the beginning,” says Stuard. “It was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting.”
Having Drew Brees put her name on the back of his jersey as part of The Real Heroes Project, however, boosted her spirits immeasurably. “This was seriously so amazing,” she says. “I don’t see myself any differently from others, but to be recognized by someone who is a legend here in Louisiana is so great. There are no words.”
She says it’s a story she’ll remember always and looks forward to sharing it with her kids someday.
Patients are inspired
That recognition from Brees is only one example of the kind of attention this young therapist draws wherever she goes. Her patients in particular see her as someone who inspires them to cope with their own medical issues.
“Being recognized is something I have never dreamed would happen because I am an ordinary person, I think,” she reiterates. “But to others — they are amazed by me.” They are amazed she’s been able to work in the medical field at all and they are struck by how driven she is to succeed.
More often than not, it provides them with an example they can aspire to. “My patients are so sick, and I think when they see me as their respiratory therapist, it gives them a boost of happiness and makes them look at their situation as not so bad,” she says. “I get told, ‘you’re incredible,’ but I tell them that they are the strong one.”
Watch this video on the New Orleans Saints website to see Drew Brees honor Savannah Stuard through The Real Heroes Project, an initiative in which world-class athletes honored 30+ health care heroes for their work in COVID-19.