respiratory therapist stories covid-19

Jade’s Story: From the classroom to the COVID unit

Jade Nardi is a young woman who, in many ways, raised herself. In a life that taught her early to either sink or swim, she’s lived without the luxury of a life raft for as long as she can remember.

Growing up, Jade’s family frequently struggled with dependency issues and less than adequate access to necessities like food and housing. So, when it came time for Jade to create a world of her own, she envisioned a life opposite to the experiences she encountered as a young girl.

Despite the lack of role models in her earlier life, Jade continued to push for something more. Along the way, she held close to “an inner-knowing that [she was] destined for greatness,” and through her perseverance, she navigated a new life for herself.

When one door closes…

Even though she did not receive much support in her younger years, Jade always found herself helping others, “It’s in my personality,” she shared.

While working as a traveling Certified Nursing Assistant for hospice care, Jade became particularly fond of one elderly couple, Justine, a retired judge, and Harvey, a former pilot. Jade grew so close to the pair that she would cook breakfast for them on her days off.

“Harvey, Justine’s husband, had cancer, and at the time, I didn’t know how bad it was,” Jade described. “I knew that cancer had infiltrated his brain and that it was a closing door, but I didn’t know how fast the door was going to close or when.”

“I was there when Harvey passed, and his family had a lot of questions. At the time, I couldn’t answer most of them because I didn’t know the disease process. After seeing what death looked like and felt like, and in a swirl of emotions that I had never felt before, I asked myself how I could better help and offer my services.”

“While working in hospice, I fell in love creating relationships with my patients, and I knew I wanted to spend more time with them,” Jade acknowledged. “I knew I had to go back to school, and I knew I needed to further my education.”

The signs and signals on the screen 

Next, Jade was taking pre-requisite courses at a local community college when her sister suddenly became incredibly sick and was admitted into an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a nearby hospital.

“My sister was in the ICU for two weeks, and it was very touch-and-go,” Jade detailed. “They sent in a priest, and we got ready to say our goodbyes. At the time, I was taking pictures of the monitors and prescriptions because I knew one day I’d know what all of this stuff meant, and I’d make sense of it.”

Jade’s sibling remarkably survived and has since recovered, much thanks to her sister’s compassionate care.

But Jade still had the pictures of her sister’s monitors and medications, and she still had the determination to uncover what it all meant.

A flexible plan for her professional future 

With the thought of furthering her career always in the back of her mind, Jade heard about Goodwin University after listening to a radio commercial coming through her car speakers.

“Once I learned that Respiratory Care was a two-year program, that Goodwin offered classes at night, and that I could work full-time while attending school, that’s what led me on the respiratory route,” Jade explained.

“Then, when I walked into Goodwin, right as I entered through the doors, I was greeted by this sweet ‘hello,’ and I felt welcomed. Even though it was just a ‘hello,’ since I don’t have a support system of my own, that was a huge deal for me.”

Enthusiastic professors and an extraordinary clinical experience

It didn’t take long for Jade to enroll at Goodwin, and as a first-generation student, she began taking evening classes four days a week while working full time.

“The professors were unbelievably upbeat and positive,” Jade stated. “Whatever challenges arose, the students, including myself, were able to go to them and get the support they needed. One professor started every class with a joke — it was a cheesy joke every time — but after a long day at work, it was great.

The clinical instructors gave me the skillset to know what I’m doing with my patients, too. They were always available, a huge help, and wonderful at being hands-on.”

For clinical training, “Goodwin provided the opportunity to be exposed to long-term care facilities, level-one hospitals, and children’s hospitals,” she specified.

During her time at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, Jade got to witness a procedure on a 17-month-old who had an open chest cavity and coded.

“At the pediatric patient’s bedside, I had to hand the doctor a pair of scissors so he could open the patient’s bandage and start cardiac massage. It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Jade disclosed.

Connections with her classmates 

When it came to her cohort, “I really developed some phenomenal friendships within the group,” Jade revealed. “There were around 12 of us, and we were all there for one another; they were my family.”

“In Respiratory Therapy, doctors count on you, and everyone looks to you for advice in the middle of life-and-death situations with your patients. When you see someone die in the movies or hear a code called, it’s nothing like it is in person, so we all leaned on each other and talked about our experiences. We would stay after on Saturday for a study group, or we would all go to dinner to decompress.

“Whether I went through a breakup or had an awful day at the hospital, my peers told me that it would be ok, that I was going to make it, and that they were there for me. It was the only time I ever felt valued and supported by individuals who started as strangers and ended up becoming my best friends. My classmates became my family,” she expressed with gratitude.

When confidence meets her calling

Once she completed all of her classes and clinical hours, Jade graduated from Goodwin, passed her qualification exams, and earned her title as a Registered Respiratory Therapist.

Not letting life struggles define her or using her past as an excuse for defeat, “I’m proud of myself for beating the odds, pursuing my dreams, and continually stepping up my game,” Jade celebrated.

A lifelong learner, Jade recently earned her bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Therapy from Boise State and is currently working on her prerequisites to become a physician’s assistant. Jade now works at Backus Hospital in Norwich.

“Goodwin gave me the foundation for my career, and I’ve built on that foundation,” Jade stated proudly. “I get my name out there, make a name for myself, form relationships with people, and I do my best to succeed in anything that leads me toward my dream.”

The realities of respiratory therapy

“Attending Goodwin allowed me to understand the nitty-gritty of mechanical ventilation and empowered me to be confident in my assessment skills by evaluating situations as a whole. I remember learning that the first thing you do when you walk into a room is look at the patient; a lot of people working in hospitals don’t do that. Instead, they will look at the monitor, the drips, or the ventilator, but what’s most important is looking at the patient first,” Jade enlightened.

“That advice became particularly valuable during COVID. Nothing fully prepared anyone for the pandemic, so when we didn’t have enough of what we usually depend on to assess a patient, I had to rely on my patient assessment skillset to tell myself, ‘This is where my patient is, and that is what I need to do right now.’”

As part of her daily workwear, Jade gets ready for her hospital shift by putting on a full hospital gown, scrub cap, surgical mask, N95 mask, face shield, and gloves.

“I’ve had enough personal protective equipment (PPE), but it has been limited,” Jade admitted, “So all I can do is try to be as clean and healthy as possible.”

But even among all precautions, Jade was diagnosed with the Coronavirus in March of 2020, just as the pandemic began. “I was exposed, and patients were coming in. At the time, we didn’t know that they were COVID positive, and then the pandemic hit.”

Since she recovered, Jade uses her previous COVID diagnosis to better relate to her patients. “I had a very small symptom set compared to my patients, but when people come in, and they’re short of breath, I understand that feeling.

“But by the time I step into the room, the situation is severe. My patients have the feeling that they’re going to die, and I know that they might not going to come off of the ventilator alive. So the job, in part, is helping to calm my patients, whether that be with medication or telling them, ‘you’re in great hands… I’m not going to leave you… everything will be ok.’

“The pandemic reinforced that my purpose in life is to be the bridge between life and death — that’s what respiratory therapy is. For the most part, when I put people on the ventilator, I’m the last one they look at, the last one they talk to. When I intubate patients, or pull the tube out to let them go and pass as they please, I’m the last one with the hands on the body.

“I talk to every single patient as they pass, and I will go into the room and physically hold their hand just so a person doesn’t pass on their own. It’s a tremendous job, and I feel so grateful and an overwhelming sense of privilege to be the one to do it.”

A hopeful healthcare hero

When crediting her character and career success, “Everyone in life has struggles, but they shouldn’t let those struggles deter them from succeeding,” Jade advised. “We are so privileged to be alive, to have the chance to breathe, and we are privileged to have the opportunity to be educated.

“Goodwin gave me the opportunity to become the woman that I dreamed of becoming. I can support myself, do my job, and save lives. Since February of last year, I’ve been working with COVID patients. I’ve lost a multitude of patients over these past months, and I still have the strength in me to keep going to save my patients from this pandemic.

“If it weren’t for Goodwin and getting my degree, I wouldn’t have one of the top jobs in the nation right now. I am extremely grateful that I fell into the respiratory therapy path. I feel so valued as an individual, and I’m doing remarkable work. When it comes down to it, it’s all because of Goodwin.”

Click here to learn more about Goodwin’s Respiratory Care program!