Utah Respiratory Therapist Volunteers To Help Sick Veterans In New Orleans
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Six weeks ago, New Orleans emerged as a hot spot as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified across the country and the VA hospital there needed help for their sick veterans. When that call went out, a Utah volunteer stepped up and put his life on the line to help.
That respiratory therapist who works here in our VA Salt Lake City Healthcare system knew that he had the training to make a difference. What he saw, what he did and what he felt helping veterans in New Orleans will always be with him.
“I was in the right position, at the right time, and the right place to serve,” said Eduardo Cardenas, a VA respiratory therapist.
When he first arrived in New Orleans in March, he worked 12-hour days 13 days in a row.
“It was a great team to work with,” Cardenas said.
Early on in his deployment, he said, they were intubating five to 10 patients a day, so they could breathe on ventilators.
“This was a great opportunity for a respiratory therapist like me to serve our veterans up there,” he said. “That’s why I was volunteering.”
Cardenas, who came to the United States from Lima, Peru 18 years ago, said the pandemic response in that hospital tested all of their skills. He estimates there were 100 COVID-19 patients in the hospital when he was there, 60 of them in the ICU.
“I feel very proud to be part of the VA and have been working as a respiratory therapist for very long hours,” Cardenas said.
One day, three patients went into cardiac arrest at the same time. The team rushed to save them, but all three of the veterans succumbed to COVID-19.
“That’s when we learned that we were not treating just a simple pandemic, a simple issue,” he said. “This was more than that.”
As a respiratory therapist, he felt emotionally prepared to handle his job. But nothing quite like this.
“This is a different situation,” Cardenas said. “I never worked with the situation, an emergency situation like this, with a pandemic and the COVID-19.”
Yet, he volunteered to stay an extra two weeks.
Another patient he treated from the time he arrived was on a ventilator for two weeks. But, that veteran showed steady improvement, and doctors took him off the ventilator.
“I told him, ‘Sir, thank you for your service.‘ And he said, ‘Sir, thank you for your service..’ There’s something that I have here. And I will always remember it.”
Success like that enabled the team to push on, he said.
“That was a great satisfaction for myself, and for our team. To have somebody recover and going home.”
Back in January, Cardenas deployed to Puerto Rico to serve veterans there as they recovered from a swarm of earthquakes that rocked the island.
Cardenas is simply glad he is trained to step up when veterans need him the most.
“I am very honored to serve veterans,” he said. “I always prepare to serve, and use my skills that I’ve been learning for more than 15 years.”
Cardenas will resume work at the George E. Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City on Monday.
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