FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — This is Dominic Santiago’s 18th year of suiting up as a respiratory therapist. It started out like any other year, but it quickly took an unexpected turn. 

“I’m putting myself in their shoes. It’s tough. I’m not going to lie,” said Santiago, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital. 

What You Need To Know

  • Respiratory therapists work alongside physicians, nurses, health care staff to take care of patients

  • Dominic Santiago has been a respiratory therapist for 18 years

  • Respiratory therapists manage and monitor ventilators to help patients breathe 

  • Santiago says his colleagues are humbled to be considered heroes

For months, patients with COVID-19 have been admitted into Fountain Valley Regional Hospital’s intensive care unit. The virus attacks their respiratory system, making it hard for them to breath on their own. So Santiago and other RTs adjust the settings on ventilators to control their critically ill patients’ breathing and clear their airways. 

Santiago tries to comfort them as they lay in isolation without any family or friends.

“Usually I just say, 'We’re trying to get you better, try to get you home,'” said Santiago. 

The respiratory therapist says he can’t help but think of his own mom, who is retired and someone he considers his backbone, whenever he sees a patient. He recalls a time recently when one of his patients’ daughters asked to FaceTime their mom. 


 “It’s tough because on the receiving end of that. They’re not doing well. Who knows if that’s their last day? That struck me,” said Santiago. 

He had to take a step back to control his emotions as a nurse held up a phone so the woman’s daughters could see her. “I can only imagine being in her shoes and not even being able to really see your mom,” said Santiago.

He says even though COVID-19 has added a new layer of stress to his job, he’s not alone. He’s part of a team of respiratory therapists who support each other on their good and bad days. Despite being called heroes working on the front lines, Santiago says they don’t consider themselves heroes. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to do which is helping patients breathe while providing a human touch.

For more information please visit Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.