Frontline Heroes: Respiratory therapist knows both sides of battle, going from sickness to recovery

Miami Valley News

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — A Dayton respiratory therapist caring for COVID-19 patients knows all too well what it’s like to be on the other side.

“I feel for them in my soul just having been through that myself and having recollections of it,” says 25-year-old Caitlin Colbert, who is the personification of fearlessness.

Respiratory therapists, like Caitlin, are perhaps closer than anyone to patients in this pandemic.

“There’s a purpose for her to do this,” says her mother, Lisa Colbert.

Caitlin goes to battle everyday because it’s one she’s fought on the other side. In 2017, while training to become a respiratory therapist, Caitlin developed chest pain. That eventually turned into a seizure that lasted for hours.

“They could not identify what was wrong with her,” says Lisa. “It was a scary time.”

Hospitalized for weeks and put on a ventilator, medics eventually airlifted her to the Cleveland Clinic.

“She had autoimmune encephalitis caused by an antibody,” describes Lisa.

There was a treatment, but her recovery took months.

“I had the opportunity to watch the respiratory therapists take care of her, so I knew what she was going to be doing,” states Lisa.

The disease was no match for Caitlin’s unwavering passion to care for people, becoming a respiratory therapist in 2019.

“This is really important because this is a major respiratory illness,” says Caitlin. “We’ve seen it kind of with the flu and kind of with pneumonia, but never on this scale. Never on this large of a scale.”

“For people who think this is a hoax, I want them to walk in the shoes of me and my family,” says Lisa. “We don’t know what lung damage happened due to seven weeks on a ventilator for her. And so if she gets this, I don’t know what’s going to happen. So I worry every day when she goes to work. I say a prayer.”

Caitlin still takes medication every day. For her, on the front lines, the rewards outweigh the risks.

“It made me more appreciative of what my patients go through and how they feel,” says Caitlin.

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