Life as a Respiratory Therapist
in the ICU


“If you can’t breathe, you can’t do anything.”

Respiratory Therapist (RT) Dave Sahadeo has been working at VGH since he graduated from Thompson Rivers University in 2017, helping patients who require respiratory aid to receive vital and life-saving care.

“RTs see the sickest of the sick,” says Dave, who specializes in Acute Care. “The place where I spend most of my time is in the Intensive Care Unit — the ICU — where I place patients on mechanical ventilators, also known as life support.”

Dave and his fellow RTs are the ones with the clinical skills and expertise who ensure that a patient has an open airway, is being appropriately ventilated and receiving enough oxygen. This includes both patients who are able to breathe on their own, and through artificial devices such as a ventilator. They collaborate with the world-class medical teams at VGH, helping care for asthmatics, trauma patients, organ transplant recipients, patients with severe head injuries, COVID-19 patients, and others.

“RTs see patients from their first breath as babies through their entire lives, from childhood to adulthood, and often towards the end of their lives as well,” says Dave. “Our work takes us to every area of the hospital, from admission to discharge and beyond, as we are also working out in the community, meeting our patients when and where they need us.”

It’s a lot of work to care for a single patient, but this is why he chose his career — even at the cost of seeing his own family.

Adjusting to COVID-19

“I told my family goodbye several weeks ago when our first COVID-19 case popped up.”

Dave says his family is considered to be high-risk for COVID-19 complications. Pair that with him being in the ICU, and it places Dave at an increased level of exposure to this insidious disease, which he fears unknowingly bringing home one day.

“I do remain dedicated to providing the best patient care that I can,” says Dave. “But it takes a huge toll and sacrifice in my personal life to be there on the front lines for my patients.”

Patient care swiftly changed in VGH where the teams installed a COVID Unit, as well as changing the patient admission process to ensure that safe distancing and isolation criteria was met.

“In the ICU, I have to wear full personal protective equipment for any COVID-positive or suspected patients,” says Dave. “This makes it difficult to communicate as voices become muffled, and often the door is closed to the patient’s room, leaving us resorting to shouting through a glass door or trying to use a Walkie-Talkie.”

COVID-19 patients experiencing respiratory distress can lead to pneumonia and a fatiguing of the lungs, as they work harder to keep breathing.

“In severe cases, we have to place an artificial airway. This decision is not made lightly,” says Dave.

“It requires us to place a tube that goes into the mouth, through the throat into the trachea to provide air and oxygen to the patient’s lungs. This serves as a conduit to suction secretions from the lungs, initiate mechanical ventilation, set up humidified oxygen therapy to help clear those thick sticky secretions from a pneumonia, suction the patients lungs to clear their airways and help them cough when they are too tired to. This is often seen as a ‘last resort’ in our care options.”

But Dave and his fellow health care team at VGH are seeing the results of their hard work.

A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by senior author Dr. Donald Griesdale, an ICU physician at VGH, showed that death rates of COVID-19 patients in ICU were lower in Metro Vancouver hospitals – including VGH – than other ICUs around the world.

While the reasons for this success are multifaceted, Dr. Griesdale credits the hospital’s preparedness as a factor, of which donors play a key role in ensuring VGH and UBC Hospital are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and equipment, including ventilators.

Proud to care for you

Respiratory Therapists play an integral role in the care of patients across a wide spectrum of injuries and diseases. And Dave couldn’t be prouder to help British Columbians in their moments of need.

“I am here to quite literally help people keep breathing, and I am proud to be on the front line of the fight against COVID-19,” says Dave. “I know that with the team here at VGH, we are ready to handle whatever comes our way. And we will continue to fight for as long as it takes.”

High Fives for Health Care

Learn more about how you can support health care workers like Dave – join High Fives for Health Care

What is High Fives for Health Care?
High Fives for Health Care is a way to support the health of our community – by spreading gratitude while fundraising for our local health care system.

You can get involved in plenty of ways – donate, join the #HealthCareHighFive challenge, and ask five friends to do the same!