Sometimes, life can be a fragile thing. Very few people ever imagine being in a situation of having their very existence teeter on a razor’s edge. Those who do find themselves in such a state often don’t have the ability to balance the scales of life themselves, but rely on those who have stepped up and taken charge of their care, and ultimately their life. It is these caregivers, these leaders, who act as our greatest line of defense in our greatest time of need. Those who protect us, without hesitation or second thought, and serve their fellow men and women without calls for recognition or attention. These unsung guardians are the reason Integrity Healthcare, and SCK Health present the fine members of our community with the Lifesaver Award, a small token of recognition for their actions that literally decide the battle between life and death for someone. Today we honor SCK Health Respiratory Therapist Byron Laughrey with this very award.
Byron Laughrey has been a practicing respiratory therapist for the past 17 years. He became a part of the SCK Health team in 2020, shortly after the closing of the nearby Wellington hospital. 2020 was one of the most challenging years to date for the healthcare sector as a whole. In a relatively short amount of time, the number of hospital beds in the south-central Kansas area had been nearly halved as healthcare facilities struggled to keep their doors open. This coinciding with a global pandemic made for some less than favorable conditions for many healthcare workers. However, the unfortunate events surrounding Bryon’s transfer to SCK Health did not dull his spirit nor his resourcefulness, as he began providing the same excellent care to the patrons of Cowley County that he had done for many years prior. What set Byron apart, and why he is being recognized today is for his profound adaptability and willingness to step up when needed.
All respiratory therapists at SCK Health and across the globe have been put to the test by the Covid-19 pandemic, to say the least. Everybody has been impacted in one way or another by what have been repeatedly called “unprecedented times”. Healthcare and medicine is an especially difficult line of work to be in when precedent is not established. Providers and skilled health workers receive years of training to be able to do what they do. So, to have a rapidly spreading sickness throw a proverbial wrench in the order of things is a challenge that people are still adapting to nearly 20 months later. This unique hurdle can be summarized and captured perfectly in a situation that unfolded at SCK Medical center last year, during the height of the pandemic. A patient in their 40’s was brought into the hospital who was having severe respiratory failure related to Covid-19. As Laughrey explained the situation: “At this point, the patient’s oxygen level would not maintain, so we had no choice but to take them up to the next level. We needed to get her on a BiPAP (a type of ventilator) which her physician came and intubated her with.” But this would not be the solution to this patient’s problem, as even on a ventilator the patient was not able to hold healthy oxygen levels. “We did two x-rays on the patient back to back” Laughrey said. “but the patient would not keep their oxygen saturation up while on the ventilator.”
This struggle lasted for nearly six hours. It was at this time that Byron and other medical colleagues put their heads together and came up with an unprecedented solution to an unprecedented problem. As Laughrey put it “It turned out that the only way we could keep her oxygen sats up was to turn the patient’s PEEP way up, higher than you normally ever would.” PEEP is a shortened name for what respiratory therapist and medical professionals refer to as positive end-expiratory pressure, which is the amount of gas pressure held in the lungs at the end of a respiratory cycle, like breathing. “So, we turned the patient’s PEEP way up and that kept the numbers up.” Keeping these numbers high was absolutely critical to being able to safely transport this patient to a facility in Wichita that would better be able to sustain and assist in their recovery, and that is exactly what Byron was able to achieve.
It is important to keep in mind two factors to this story that make it all the more remarkable. While Laughrey was saving this patient’s life, he was also keeping up with other patients. Towards the end of this particular patient’s stay, Byron was pulled away to intubate another person that was scheduled to have surgery. This did not dull the concentration of this hero, and he was not able to gauge whether his creative solution worked in a sustained capacity. By the time he returned from intubating the second patient of his shift, the high-risk patient had been stabilized and transferred. A job well done. The second amazing factor to keep in mind was that Byron was not required to help this patient in the first place but recognized an urgent need to help save this person’s life. Most hospitals dealing with highly infectious patients, such as those who are Covid-19 positive, will have designated personnel specifically tasked with treating positive patients. These are often referred to as “dirty” therapists or nurses. This is done to increase the amount of attention placed on these high-risk patients, lower the risk of transmitting the disease throughout other areas of a hospital, and to save resourced that may be needed to treat more patients down the line. At the time of the incident written about here, Bryon Laughrey was not the “dirty” RT on shift. He recognized that he was potentially exposing himself to the virus but took the proper precautions and did the work that needed to be done. “You really have to use all of your clinical skills and training when dealing with something like this.” Laughrey said. “You really just do your best to figure out what’s best for the patient. We still didn’t know where we were at with Covid at this time. I’d never seen patients struggle for oxygen like this before. In 17 years, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Dr Joseph O'Donnell, Co-Founder of Integrity Health said "Byron's efforts are truly heroic in scale. We are so proud to honor him as an Integrity LifeSaver. He exemplifies the highest-level expertise that we have on our Care Teams at SCK Medical Center. Yes, experience matters. Simply because it saves lives." This could not be any truer for Byron, and for all of the hard-working medical professionals that have been tasked with adapting to the Covid-19 situation as it unfolds. From us at SCK Health and Integrity Health we want to say thank you to Mr. Laughrey and all our team members. We are proud of you and all of your efforts.