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Respiratory therapist recalls the moments that make the long days in the hospital worth it

We rightfully hear a lot about the doctors and nurses who are working long hours, but we don't often hear about another part of the team: the respiratory therapists.

AUSTIN, Texas — The ability to breathe is something that comes natural to us. It's something you're doing right now while reading this web story, without even thinking about it. 

But what happens when something most of us were born doing stops? 

"We're the ones that show up, and we're there," said Laura Steen, a registered respiratory therapist at St. David's South Austin Medical Center

Steen said a respiratory therapist is trained to operate the medical ventilators in the ICU. 

"We give breathing treatments. We see patients when they come into the ER in respiratory distress. We go to codes," said Steen, listing off just some of the things she usually does as a respiratory therapist. 

Typically, she said she's moving around the hospital a lot. 

"We’re kind of seen everywhere in a hospital on a normal day-to-day basis. Someone comes in the ER, we’re there. We’re giving them breathing treatments. We’re putting them on a ventilator, if that’s where their journey begins. Then we’re in ICU managing the ventilators and life support, working really close with our nurses and our physicians," Steen said, detailing a typical day.

However, those "typical days" have changed due to the coronavirus. Steen said it's been a challenging but rewarding time in the hospital. 

"The moment the patient is on life support and then when they’ve kind of gone over that hump, and they wake up and they squeeze your hand and mouth the words 'thank you' to you," Steen said. "It’s just, it’s rewarding from that little moment to be able to be there. They’re just grateful that we helped them." 

Steen said her goal every day is to come in and try to touch someone's life. However, she said it's often that the patient touches her life instead. 

WATCH: Chief nursing officer gives a look at the COVID-19 frontlines

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