“Everybody shouted commands, they called me from left to right, the doctors asked for my help, the nurses screamed that the patient was not breathing, the sweat was fogging my eyes, my heart was beating fast, but my pulse remained calm, I needed to remain serene to make sure each precision to the artificial respirator and the other devices were done right, the patient’s life depended on it. It was an endless two hours until the crisis of the medical emergency ended and the end result, was that two of the three patients who had been shot in the head had died,” the Salvadoran young man tells us.  It was one of his most striking experiences since he began working as a respiratory therapist at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital, located in the Mexican neighborhood of La Villita.

“Being a respiratory therapist is the most important thing that has ever happened to me. It has changed me completely. At first, my goal to study was to earn more and live better, but when I graduated and started to work I realized that the greatest satisfaction is not the salary but what you do and the importance of my job in society. You gain respect from people, family, yourself, and everything is gain, everywhere. It’s amazing how everything changes, how you become another kind of person. I have no words to describe how well you feel when you become a professional,” he says.

Erick Hernandez earned the Associate Degree of Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy at SAC.  The program is designed to have you work as a respiratory therapist in hospitals, home care, and other health care settings. Erick was trained to provide specialized diagnosis and therapeutic procedures in areas such as pulmonary function tests, arterial blood gas analysis, medical gas administration, moisture and aerosol therapy, respiratory control, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and Ventilatory support of neonatal/pediatric and adult populations.

It is a 74-hour credit program comprised of 6 semesters and upon graduation equips you with the required knowledge to take the enrollment examination administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) because this Program is accredited by the “Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care – CoARC.”

At age 27, Erick feels he has matured a decade since graduating in late 2014 at St. Augustine College. “Most of the time I find myself in situations of life and death, and that makes you reflect on the importance of your work and the need to study. I remember professors of SAC told us not to complain about what was demanded of us when it came to studying and class work, they said at some point it would save a person’s life and they were absolutely right,” he reflects.

The impact of his life began when he arrived in this country thanks to the request of his father who became an American citizen. It was December 2007 and he left his friends, his life and some girlfriends in El Salvador, to start in a country with an unknown language and where he knew no one except his cousins. As a teenager he started to study English as soon as possible and faithful to the Hispanic culture his uncle put him to work in the family restaurant, earning the minimum wage.

“Three years I washed dishes and I was between pots and pans cooking everything on the menu. I got tired and became a taxi driver in mid-2011, “he says. At the same time, he finished his studies in English in a City College. By becoming a taxi driver he met a person who changed his life. “It was another taxi driver who was a very decisive person. He worked during the day and studied at night as did his wife. He studied respiratory therapy and she was in medical school. Both graduated and are professionals, they are my role models,” he said.

It was this person who convinced him to be a respiratory therapist. “I started to investigate and discovered that near my house there was a St. Augustine location that offered this program and it had a very good reputation. I introduced myself and since then my life changed because I was treated as if I were family. I received a very good education and support to overcome the difficult moments of the exams. I will always remember my teachers like Dr. Criollo, Del Carmen, Dr. Ortiz, the entire department was key to my career. So were the counselors,” he said. While studying, he continued to taxi until he graduated and began working at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“It’s a very sacrificed career, but being a therapist has opened a lot of doors for me. It took work because the academic demands were enough because the career requires it, and it was good because I got used to the demand and the challenge of learning with effort and sacrifice. I left lots of parties aside for studying long hours, but it was all worth it,” he said. “I recommend this career to anyone who wants to impact the lives of people because it will have in their hands the salvation of a life. It is exciting and very rewarding spiritually. I feel very happy to have chosen this race and of course very grateful for SAC to help me become what I am,” concluded Hernandez, who today works as a Respiratory Therapist at the University of Chicago Medicine Hospital.