Behind the Scenes with a Respiratory Therapist

A Johns Hopkins All Children’s respiratory therapist gives an inside look at what her life is like and why she’s committed to her career in health care.

Respiratory therapist Shawn Spikes at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Respiratory therapist Shawn Spikes at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Published in Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital - Fall 2021

While it has been a year and a half since the pandemic began, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital respiratory therapists continue to play a key role in caring for patients with COVID-19. From ventilating patients to providing other life-saving breathing therapies, staff like respiratory therapist Shawn Spikes emerged as heroes helping not only patients with COVID-19 but even the smallest of premature babies. Spikes and her team remain extremely busy since the beginning of the pandemic, but now she gives us an inside look at what her life is like in and outside the hospital and why she’s committed to her career in health care.

What do you do in a normal day?

I get to work around 7 a.m. and attend our daily huddle where I receive my assignment for the day. I check orders, view chest X-rays, attend rounds and help with high-risk deliveries for those premature babies and other newborns with lung or breathing issues. Of course, I also manage plenty of patients on ventilators, including those with COVID-19, and intubate and extubate patients as needed across the hospital units, so patients can range from newborns to 21 years old in any given day.

What made you choose respiratory therapy as a specialty?

I had twin boys who were born early at 25 weeks and spent a lot of time in a neonatal ICU. One of my sons also had congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), which required significant medical care. While it was overwhelming to see your children fighting for his life at such a young age, the experience in the hospital and responsibility of the staff, including the respiratory therapists, and all they did for my babies, completely fascinated me. Now, working with babies is my passion. I’m proud that we incorporate families in the care plan of their child by including them in bedside rounds so they can advocate for their child, just as I aimed to do when I was a new mom.

How has COVID-19 impacted you?

Personally: I am a breast cancer survivor, so being in remission for cancer, I have to take extra precautions all the time. For example, I avoid crowds now, stay home and always wear my mask. It’s still the last thing I think about at night, as I always pray the cancer will never come back.

Professionally: We as respiratory therapists have to put extra thought into going into emergent situations, particularly related to COVID-19, with personal protective equipment. We can’t be careless in any way, there is no room for error. We do not want to catch this virus (or any virus) ourselves, nor would we want to spread them to the very fragile patients that need our specialized respiratory care.

What is your favorite thing about Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital?

I’ve been here eight-plus years and work with a phenomenal group of respiratory therapists (RT), nurses/advanced registered nurse practitioners and doctors. I truly love my RT family here.

What are you doing when you’re not at work?

I have a husband, four kids and three dogs so I love spending time with them. I also enjoy sunbathing poolside with my chihuahua, Peanut, while also reading a book, not a tablet — the actual book. I like to hold the book and turn actual pages.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An undercover narcotics FBI agent. I actually ended up attending the police academy and graduating, but decided to focus on respiratory therapy later on as I mentioned.

Who is your role model?

My grandmother. She raised me to always be kind and to work for what I wanted. Her most important lesson was to always keep a great credit score!

What is your one piece of health advice for families?

Wash your hands!