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Deep Breaths, Deeper Bond

Courtney charts a career path thanks to the care from her respiratory therapist

The first time Respiratory Therapy Manager Marcela Spraul tried to get Courtney to walk, the then-12-year-old simply refused. Now 17, Courtney is planning to follow in Marcela’s footsteps.

The Olive Branch, Mississippi, resident was at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis on Oct. 19 for a follow-up visit. She sought Marcela to tell her the news: She was going to go to college to become a pediatric respiratory therapist because of the care she was shown while recovering from scoliosis surgery.

“If I hadn’t met Marcela and seen how she takes care of kids, I know I wouldn’t have made this decision,” Courtney said.

But at first, that care was, well, annoying.

Courtney had recently awoken from major surgery in which a variety of hardware was placed along her spine to straighten a rapidly developing backwards-C curve. It was Marcela’s job to get her up and walking. One of the biggest post-operative dangers for patients who have scoliosis surgery is pneumonia. Walking and deep breathing lessens the risk.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘This hurts. I just want to lay here,’” Courtney said.

Marcela, now a near 17-year veteran at Shriners Hospital, was having none of that.

“I told her that in all my time here we’ve had only eight pneumonia cases and she was not going to be the ninth,” Marcela said, tears still brimming in her eyes from the news Courtney had just shared.

Reluctantly and filled with pain, Courtney got up. She breathed deeply. And she repeated it every two hours for her entire stay, with Marcela and the other respiratory therapists cheering her on. As time went on and through a second scoliosis surgery when she was 14, her initial annoyance with Marcela turned into a deep bond.

“I tell parents: ‘When your son or daughter is in the hospital here, they’re not just your kids. They’re mine too,’” Marcela said. “That’s the kind of care we all want to give to the kids who come through our doors.”

The surgeries, performed by Michael Kelly, M.D., straightened the curve in her spine that would have taken her ability to walk within two years had she not been treated. And now the care of Marcela and her colleagues has set the course for Courtney's future. The high school junior plans to join the Northwest Mississippi Community College respiratory therapy program upon graduation. From there, her sights are set on helping kids who are in similar situations to what she faced.

“I can see her as a respiratory therapist, not as my patient, but as my colleague,” Marcela said as she prepared for National Respiratory Care Week, Oct. 25-31. “What a wonderful thing it will be to say, ‘Here is my colleague.’”

Courtney with therapist

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