Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Jessica Lillback, respiratory therapist at Froedtert Hospital

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Jessica Lillback, respiratory therapist at Froedtert Hospital

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The last week in October is Respiratory Care Week. It’s a week to celebrate and highlight the work done by RT’s across the country. It’s a little late to celebrate, but it’s always a good time to shine a spotlight on the work they’re doing. With the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, they’re more in demand now than ever.

“Thank you! Froedtert Hospital system RT's,” Kellianne Fleming, Froedtert’s director of pulmonary services and respiratory care said to a group of therapists who’d braved the cold to come and see their coworker, Jessica Lillback, do an interview with CBS 58. They’re the definition of a supportive team.

“Everybody here is really wonderful and they really help each other out and work together really well, so it didn't shock me that they all came down here,” Lillback said with a smile.

In fact, Lillback said her coworkers are one of her favorite parts of her job.

“Honestly, this is a really great group here at Froedtert, and we're lucky to have each other,” she said.

They’re lucky to have each other, particularly now, as the Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to put patients in the hospital.

“It's hard when you see it first-hand, and what it is really doing to people,” Lillback said.

For Covid patients, RT’s manage ventilators and oxygen levels. There’s limited access for guests at the hospital right now, so the team shot video inside of the work they do.

“It has been a little bit more stressful than usual,” Lillback admits. “Our job is very emotionally and physically demanding.”

The respiratory therapists are responsible for moving heavy equipment, and they often have to run to meet emergencies.

“We work with asthmatics, giving them their breathing treatments, and COPD patients, getting them on bipap,” Lillback explained.

She’s been working as an RT for four years. She said she always knew she wanted a job in the medical field, and after completing several job shadows, this is the one that spoke to her.

“It's one of those health care careers that isn't very well known,” She said.

Fleming said Lillback was an obvious choice to represent her unit.

“She's the lead on our night shift, and she is just such a positive spirit,” Fleming said.

She’s a positive spirit in a very busy place. During our interviews, a Flight for Life helicopter flew in to land at the hospital. The demands of their jobs are never-ending.

“Seeing people in such distress. it never gets easy to see somebody sick or not doing well. You know, if you have a heart, it's hard to see,” Lillback said.

But with a supportive team to rely on, she said it’s a rewarding job, helping others.

“They're long shifts, but they're worth it,” Lillback said with a smile.

Fleming said it’s also a job that’s in demand. The field of respiratory therapy is expected to grow more than 20% by 2028. It’s also been named one of the 20 top health care careers by U.S. News and World Report. RT’s can start with an Associates’ degree and go up to a Masters’ Degree.

If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at nshepherd@cbs58.com.

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