Making it home, one breath at a time

Setting goals is often talked about in business or sports. But what about setting goals for your health and healing?

For Brian Roloff, his goal was straightforward: he wanted to get home.

The journey to achieve that goal, however, was anything but simple.

In the fall of 2016, Brian was diagnosed with pneumonia, which spread to his entire left lung and caused it to collapse.

“Brian was in and out of consciousness and his temperature was up to 40 degrees,” says Savita, Brian’s wife. “He was sent to the Intensive Care unit (ICU) at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and the next time I saw him, he was hooked up to a ventilator, hooked up to all these things ... it was scary.” 

Stephanie Dique (left) works through a breathing exercise with Brian Roloff (right). As Stephanie squeezes the pump, Brian's lungs expand and remain open in a deep breath. This helps with breathing and removing secretions later on.

While the ventilator gave Brian the ability to breathe, it decreased his chance to get home. Being on the ventilator for the rest of his life meant Brian would have to start looking into long-term care facilities.

“I was so angry!” says Savita. “Brian was so upset afterwards. I said, 'It’s in you to fight. Don’t let anybody tell you what you can or cannot do.'”

The respiratory team at Misericordia Community Hospital takes a special interest in working with patients to wean them off of a ventilator. The two teams worked together to transfer Brian to the ICU at the Misericordia. That’s where Brian met respiratory therapists Michelle Campbell and Stephanie Dique. 

“We knew the goal was to get Brian home without tubes,” says Stephanie.

And with that goal set, the entire community lined up their efforts.

“Some days, we’d have three respiratory therapists and a few nurses in the room at the same time,” says Michelle. “Every one of us knew the importance of doing everything we could to help Brian get the phlegm out of his lungs. One person would do the mask, one would do manual vibes—it was really a team effort!”

Brian was in a motor vehicle accident, leaving him quadriplegic. Though the spinal injury added complexity to his healing, racing still holds fond memories for him and model cars line the walls of his bedroom.

Savita and their two daughters also learned how to support Brian. His family kept him moving so he didn’t develop pressure sores from lying in bed for so long. They also learned how to use the respiratory devices, such as the Cough Assist, in hopes they could rely on the medical tools to get Brian home one day.

“The Cough Assist was an essential piece of equipment for Brian’s healing to get home, but it isn’t covered by funding or insurance, and it’s not cheap,” explains Michelle. “Thankfully, we knew of another patient who no longer needed it and we were able to get Savita in touch with that family.”

Brian’s family also worked hard to lift his spirits throughout the healing process.

“We had good days and bad days,” says Savita. “But after eight months … we’ve got Brian home.”

“There are so many degrees of being able to help with respiratory,” says Stephanie. “When someone is struggling to breathe, we have tools that can help them. But helping a patient get home—it’s great to see that ending to someone’s story.” 

Brian Roloff (centre) finds it challenging incorporating new breathing devices into his daily routine. However, he agrees that they’re worth it in order to be back home. Here, Stephanie Dique (left) looks on while Michelle Campbell (right) holds out an Aerobika, which Brian uses to help clear mucus from his lungs.

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