The respiratory therapists at Christiana Care know you can’t take breathing for granted. Now, a new award will make sure their work isn’t, either.

Beginning next year, patients will have the opportunity to nominate their respiratory therapist for the nationally recognized PHIL Award, established in 2006 by the FACES Foundation and administered in 55 hospitals in 13 states. The honor, to be awarded during Respiratory Care Week in October, carries with it a paid trip to the annual conference of the American Association of Respiratory Care.

“They truly are the unsung heroes in the hospital community,” said Sharman Lamka, FACES president and founder of the PHIL Award, who created the award in memory of her husband. “Before I went on the journey with my husband, I thought they came in the room and plugged in the ventilator and put something in the cannula so your nose doesn’t get dry.”

Lorraine Bertuola, RRT, BA, respiratory clinical manager, said she hopes the award will raise the profile of an under-recognized profession. Amanda Farris, BA, RRT-NPS, Adrienne Trzonkowski, BS, RRT, and Danielle Martino, BS, RRT, teamed up to bring the award to Christiana Care.

“We see the sickest patients,” Bertuola said. “When all the chips are down, the respiratory therapist is involved. We’re at all the cardiac arrests, with all the patients on ventilators who may not survive what happened to them.

“We see premature babies to 100-year-olds and everyone in between. When nurses can’t solve a breathing issue, they look to us to do it and help them create the best care plan for the patient.”

The fact that the award will be determined by patients, Bertuola said, “is the ultimate compliment.”

Christiana Care nurses are recognized by a similar honor called the DAISY Award, which was inaugurated in 2014.

Terry Press, RRT, has seen the role of respiratory therapists evolve over her 27 years with Christiana Care and is gratified they will be recognized for the work they do.

About 140 respiratory therapists at Christiana Care are divided into teams, allowing them to follow patients from their hospital admission to departure — which sometimes can be months. Spending more time at the bedside enables them to better educate patients and build relationships with fellow nurses, physicians and other providers to build a continuum of care.

“Families now know me by name, whereas years ago it was Breathing Lady or Ventilator Lady,” Press said.

The most amazing moment, she said, is when a patient has been weaned off the ventilator.

“That point is the very first time I get to hear the patient’s voice,” she said. “The look on their loved one’s face when they get to hear their voice — there’s just nothing like it.”

This year’s National Respiratory Care Week is Oct. 25–31