Hero of the Day: Manhattan respiratory therapist saves lives

He is the vital link between life and breath.

Charmel Rogers is a respiratory therapist who performs the delicate task of connecting and removing coronavirus patients from intubation at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital, where ventilators have often been in short supply and patients “more than quadrupled” at the height of the crisis.

“This is a horror show,” Rogers, 51, a 27-year veteran of Bellevue told The Post in mid-April as the virus reached its peak in the city. “This can’t be real that room after room after room is filled with patients that are at this level of acuity.

“It feels like I am walking around on a movie set.”

After Rogers makes it through a long line to get his temperature taken before entering the hospital each day, he immediately finds out how many patients have been added to ventilators overnight. He does the grim math, and tells the doctors how many devices are left.

“My biggest fear is when I turn to the chief and [have to] say we don’t have any more ventilators,” said Rogers. “I don’t know what happens to the first patient after you’ve reached the limit. You can’t have someone stand there and manually resuscitate. That’s a scary thing for me.”

Bellevue Hospital has come dangerously close to running out of ventilators, but the city and FEMA have stepped in with enough so that moment has not come.

Still, Rogers has also been forced to use different types of ventilating machines for some patients — devices he would not have resorted to in the past — making his expertise even more invaluable.

“No one knew what the heck I did so I always had to explain what I did,” said Rogers. “We are as front-line as physicians and nurses though we are not recognized.”

Charmel RogersCharmel RogersNYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue

From putting the tubes inside a patient to advising physicians on the best way to ventilate, Rogers is on his feet all day with no breaks. On his day off, he is on the phone with the hospital, managing patients from home.

Removing a ventilator tube from a COVID-19 case who has died alone is one of toughest parts of the job, Rogers said.

“Before, the hard part wasn’t the patient, but the family, because you’re witnessing the breaking of someone’s heart,” said Rogers. “People are dying alone. For me, it’s shifted, and I feel for these patients in a way I didn’t before because of the circumstances.”

Rogers said he’s also been struck by how young many patients are.

“When you see patients that have birth dates after yours being intubated … you say ‘wow, this dude could be me’ or ‘this guy is much younger than me,’ ” he said. 

He leaves the hospital late every night, and returns to an empty home. His mother is battling lung cancer and his two children moved out a month ago to stay with relatives as a precaution.

Rogers misses his family but keeps going because “it’s going to be over at some point and people need us now.”

His phone is filled with messages and voicemails from family, friends and former co-workers — missives that make the hard parts of the job bearable.

“This thing is so real,” said Rogers. “Everybody, please wash your hands.”

Do you have a nominee for The Post’s Hero of the Day? E-mail [email protected]


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