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Life-changing Event Leads Student to QCC’s Respiratory Care Program

August, 2018
  • Megan Romero and her two children.
    Megan Romero and her two children.
  • QCC's Respiratory Care program offers student Megan Romero hands-on training
    QCC's Respiratory Care program offers student Megan Romero hands-on training.
  • Megan Romero works with a fellow Respiratory Care student.
    Megan Romero works with a fellow Respiratory Care student.

In one brief moment in 2014, Megan Romero’s life was forever changed. She woke up to find her husband, who had been suffering with severe pneumonia, unresponsive. Fast forward to days spent in the Cardiac Care Unit, followed by a rehab facility where he learned how to breathe again through a tracheostomy. After being discharged and sent home, two months later additional medical issues forced him back to the hospital once again fighting for his life. A fight he did not win.

Ms. Romero was now a widow with a 3 and a half year old daughter, in addition to being almost nine months pregnant with her son. For many, this would seem to be an insurmountable hardship, but Ms. Romero decided she would not let the pain of her loss define her.

“I knew after my husband passed away that I needed to get into the medical field. Nursing was not my forte as they deal with some things my stomach just could not handle. I decided to go QCC’s open house in Southbridge during the fall of 2015 to look at the programs that were offered,” she said.

Ms. Romero said she remembered all of the echocardiograms and x-rays that her husband had during his illness, and decided to sign up to attend a seminar that was required at the time for all QCC students who were interested in a medical major.

“When I went to the seminar, the instructors discussed all of the different medical fields that QCC covered. When they discussed respiratory, a light bulb just went off. I knew at that moment that was the direction I needed to go,” she said. “During the whole six months of this experience with my husband, the team that was best able to explain what was going on and make me feel comfortable was the respiratory team. They were the most knowledgeable when my husband was going through everything.”

Ms. Romero said she had incorrectly assumed respiratory therapy was a specialty that a person went into after either nursing or additional education. After learning this was not the case, she signed up to take the prerequisites to begin her respiratory care career. An additional draw of the program for Ms. Romero was that she could apply for her student license after her first year and begin working as a therapist even before she graduated.

“Not only is that a foot in the door career-wise, but you get that immediate hands-on real life experience. No other major offers this,” she said. “The program is a great program. The professors are thorough and passionate about the program and about making sure you learn. The lab is equipped with real life tools used in the hospital and new items are purchased every year to stay up-to-date and increase learning.”

Along with working in the lab (where there is a simulation room set up with a hospital bed and various equipment that is used depending on the type of emergency situation), there is a clinical aspect to the program.

“What a phenomenal tool clinical is. From the very first week you work hands-on with actual patients and equipment, which again is unlike many programs. Respiratory is also the only program that is allowed to take part in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at UMass Memorial Hospital,” Ms. Romero said. “I also like that we get to experience a little bit of every field included in the respiratory therapist title. You take part in a sleep lab, pulmonary function lab, NICU, Intensive Care Unit (ICU,) regular floors and even rehab facilities. You also leave the program with your Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) and Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) certifications, yet another unique gain with program.”

When asked how she has been able to raise an active family while working and attending school, she acknowledged that it has “taken a village” - from her parents, in-laws, family and friends, to Amy Hogan, Assistant Professor of Respiratory Care and Director of Clinical Instruction and Karen Dufault, Professor of Respiratory Care/Coordinator of the Respiratory Care Program, who are her mentors in the program.

In 2017, Ms. Romero was nominated by Ms. Hogan and was named one of QCC’s Rising Stars.

“My favorite saying is ‘Onward and up.’ I would tell any students trying to better themselves, who keep hitting obstacle after obstacle, to just keep pushing forward. Every step no matter how big or small is further than you were just a minute ago. Don't let these obstacles define you. Use them to help build you to who you are meant to be,” she said.

In June, Ms. Romero received her student license and is in the process of applying for student positions at area hospitals. She is expected to graduate in May 2019. Her long-term goals are to one day work at Boston’s Children Hospital and to be in a position where she can help others in similar situations to attend school and be a support for their success. She’d also like to one day create a scholarship in her husband’s name.

“I want people to know that your life isn’t defined or limited by the events that happen, but by what you do and how you handle them,” she said. “I have seen many people who have been in similar situations where they just crash and become isolated from the world. I've seen kids go into foster care because the parent left loses him or herself in the tragedy of their situation. Don’t let that be you. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to keep trying.”

Visit Respiratory Care to learn more about QCC’s program.

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