By Paige Doherty, COM 101 Student
Joanna Danko rarely cries over a patient, but she will never forget the day she had to take a COVID patient off life support.
“A 70-year-old man came into the emergency room, saying that he wasn’t feeling too well and wanted to get checked out,” says Danko, a respiratory therapist at Palos Community Hospital. “He came in walking and talking fine. Over the next few days all I hear is ‘rapid decline, rapid decline, rapid decline.’”
The patient had to be removed from life support. In normal times, hospital staff would leave the room to allow the family to be alone as the patient was taken off support. But during lockdown, family members could not be in the room, so Danko found herself listening as the patient’s wife called him on the phone.
“The wife was telling him how much she loved him and that he fought strongly and that it was time to let go and that everything would be okay,” Danko said. “It broke me, her words broke me.
“I had to stand there holding his hand and stroking his forehead telling him everything was okay until he died in my arms. That was the one patient I cried for, and I don’t cry often.”
The wife was telling him how much she loved him and that he fought strongly and that it was time to let go and that everything would be okay. It broke me, her words broke me.”Moraine Alum Joanna Danko, Respiratory Therapist
Many healthcare workers know the sudden drop in their stomachs as they hear the words “CODE BLUE” but rush to immediately help. Joanna Danko is one of those people.
Her schedule is normally busy with handling everyday patients, but COVID-19 has overloaded her to the point of exhaustion. She barely has time for a break to talk and rarely goes home due to the shortages of healthcare workers globally. Yet she still continues to get up every day to help her patients.
Danko, 39, graduated from Moraine Valley. She was the youngest one in her class to graduate from the respiratory therapy program.
Once she graduated, she went to work at Children’s Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago.
“I never planned to work with adults,” she says. “I wanted to work with kids, so that’s what I did.”
After having two children of her own, she decided to work with adults because she couldn’t watch children suffer anymore.
Respiratory therapy was not her first choice in her career path; she originally wanted to be firefighter and paramedic. She was not too confident whether she would “pull the trigger” to follow her original idea of a career. But she discovered what a respiratory therapist was when her brother was in the hospital.
The therapist who helped her brother had swift motions with a careful and tenacious eye, she said, and she has now developed these habits herself.
As soon as she saw this healthcare worker come into her brother’s room, her eyes beamed with light and she said to herself, “That is what I want to do for my life.” The field quickly became her passion and she soared with it.
She just wanted to have a job where she could better herself, but she rarely thinks about herself.
“Some people don’t understand what we go through,” she says.
Every day, she and her coworkers watch these people suffer through COVID-19. She says they “might have a small amount of PTSD” from this past year.
Yet this job is her passion, and she could not imagine doing anything else. Even though it is frustrating at times, she still pushes herself to do her job right with that swiftness and tenacious intention she once saw from her mentor.
Joanna Danko is the kind of person who does the job most others cannot.