By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more than three decades, Tammy Losh has taken care of the tiniest patients at Riley Hospital for Children.
In her work as a respiratory therapist in the NICU, she sees the sickest babies, relying on ever-evolving technology and treatments to help them breathe. The babies might be preemies with under-developed lungs, or they might have asthma, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension or a host of other respiratory illnesses.
It’s a job she loves in a place she treasures. Most of her 36-year career has been spent at Riley.
What keeps her coming back?
“It’s the babies and their families,” she said. “The job we do as respiratory therapists has a life-changing impact, and we are supporting and caring for the whole family.”
The field has evolved over the years, starting with the training that RTs receive. The senior members of the staff who mentored Losh when she arrived fresh out of her degree program often had no degree themselves. They had on-the-job training.
“They were great therapists, and they were wonderful with the kids,” she said. “But it was very treatment-heavy. Now we’re less treatment-heavy and much more technology-driven.”
And that can be challenging for RTs just entering the field.
“The people who have worked here a long time have had the benefit of gradually assimilating all of this new technology.”
When she started, for example, there was just one kind of ventilator and few other therapeutic options.
Now they have a range of machines and treatments at their disposal. And more babies are surviving because of it.
“We are able to save more babies because we understand the disease process better, and we have more therapies and interventions to offer to support them,” Losh said. “On top of that, babies are surviving at lower and lower gestation ages – 22, 23 weeks.”
COVID-19 has brought the respiratory therapy profession into the limelight, but Losh said Riley’s NICU has not seen any COVID-positive babies.
“We’ve had several babies born to COVID-positive moms, but blessedly, the babies were not positive.”
When she’s not directly caring for babies, Losh is teaching the newest generation of RTs and medical fellows.
“I truly feel blessed to get to take care of these babies and their families. And I very much enjoy teaching because I feel like it multiplies and extends the impact,” she said.
“The more people who are better at what they do, the more exponential the effect. And it benefits me. The more you teach, the more you learn.”
Losh’s little patients can’t tell her what they need, but she has learned over the years that they are the real superstars.
“A lot of people work really hard in that NICU – RTs, nurses, doctors, NPs, everybody,” she said. “But nobody works harder than those babies. That is where the real credit lies. They have such a rough start, and they just keep on trying.”
Photo by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com