Respiratory Therapist, Cardiopulmonary Department
Southern Tennessee Regional Health System-Pulaski
As LifePoint Health employees united to battle a raging pandemic, respiratory therapists found themselves in the very eye of the storm. Jessica Smith, a respiratory therapist at Southern Tennessee Regional Health System’s Pulaski campus, answered the call,
working tirelessly to comfort patients, both in body and spirit.
Many of Jessica’s gestures were simple but impactful. One COVID-19 patient, whose nose ran continuously after days of struggling with irritating oxygen tubes, mentioned he would love some soft tissues. Afterher 12-hour shift — and before making her long, 70-
mile commute home — she drove to a store, bought those tissues and brought them back to the hospital for the patient. When another patient wished for a biscuit from his favorite restaurant, Jessica made that happen, too, not just once but several times.
"She was a person in their final days who cared, even about the little things," says a colleague. "Sometimes those little things mean so much."
Another colleague describes an interaction Jessica had with an elderly COVID-19 patient with no family, who had become restless and agitated. Jessica’s usual tactics of singing and praying with him just weren’t enough. The patient insisted he needed a preacher, but there was no chaplain on site. She offered to call her brother, who is a minister, and after the phone call, the man finally relaxed and fell asleep. He died later that night, at peace.
"For some patients, Jessica’s small blessings were the last they received," hospital CEO Jim Edmondson says.
When another patient lost his wife to COVID-19 at a different facility, he was ready to give up his own fight. With the help of others, Jessica made a list of things he had mentioned that meant something to him. She began bringing them in, one by one. The man rallied
and, after a 46-day stay, walked out of the hospital through a cheering crowd to his family. During the holidays, Jessica organized an impromptu group of carolers to cheer COVID-19 patients. Some even joined in the joyful noise from their beds. Jessica’s compassion for her patients reaches far beyond the hospital’s walls. Two developmentally disabled and homeless adult brothers had been admitted for care. They had recently lost their mother, were living in their vehicle and hadn’t bathed in a month. The older brother mentioned repeatedly that he missed his truck, which turned out to be a toy truck.
"Jessica, in her quiet and beautiful way, went unnoticed and purchased clothing for both," says Edmondson. "Upon their discharge, she worked with her church to secure short-term housing, while more avenues to find a permanent housing solution could be explored." She also made sure the eldest brother got his toy truck, a small gesture that meant the world to him.
Jessica does all of this on top of her 140-mile roundtrip daily commute and while caring for her mother - a recovering long-term cancer patient who lives with her - and patiently working with her six-year-old son, who has autism and only recently began speaking.
"Jessica has strength, compassion and humility beyond the reaches of most humans," Edmondson says. "She inspires me and lifts me."