Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko, NKU

Respiratory Care faculty member reaches patients in need all over the country as part of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center transport team

By Tom Ramstetter
NKU Marketing + Communications

Melanie Cundiff could go anywhere today.

She could hop in an ambulance to pick up a child at St. Elizabeth Hospital. She could jump in a helicopter and head to Maysville, Kentucky, to pick up a patient. She could even get on a plane and fly to Alaska overnight.

Melanie is a respiratory therapist on the transport team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, traveling all over the United States to pick up sick children who need specialty care, surgeries, or procedures only Cincinnati Children’s can offer.

And the faculty member in the respiratory care program at Northern Kentucky University’s College of Health Professions “wouldn't trade if for the world.”

“My scope of practice as an RT on transport has allowed me to do so many things I would not get to do in other hospitals or units,” Melanie says. “One of my favorite things about the job is not knowing what the day will hold. We can walk in the door and fly across the country or never leave the state of Ohio at all. We also never know what kind of patient we will see, anywhere from a premature baby, to a pediatric trauma patient, a patient on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), or even an adult patient. 

“The excitement and the variety is the best part.”

Melanie’s team consists of only three working together to take care of any kind of patient it may come in contact with limited resources out in the field.

“I truly feel that this has enabled me to become an even better practitioner,” Melanie says.

She discovered early on that she had a true passion for helping people in some of the most difficult times of their lives. She always wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, but life took her down a different and important path.

“I got married young and started a family and by the time I went back to college, I knew that going to med school would not be an option,” Melanie says. “However, I really wanted to work in health care. I was working at a pulmonology group as a medical assistant when I was finally able to go back to college. It was while working with them that I realized that being an RT would include both teaching and caring for patients. This would be the best of both worlds for me.”

Melanie’s first stop after respiratory therapy school 17 years ago was Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, where she worked in the neonatal intensive-care unit.

“I knew then that I wanted not only to do just pediatrics/neonatal population, but I wanted to be on the transport team at CCHMC,” Melanie says. “They would come into the NICU at Good Sam and pick up the kids we could no longer manage there. They seemed to be like the ‘super RTs’ to me and, man, did I want to be one of them.”

That led her to Cincinnati Children’s and the pediatric intensive care unit where she worked for six years until there was an opening on the transport team. She has been on the team for eight years.

Melanie arrived at NKU two years ago to teach pediatric respiratory care and now she teaches many different classes full time within the program, allowing her to fulfill another passion.

“When I was approached about possibly teaching I was unsure because I do love my job now,” Melanie says. “Unfortunately on transport, the short amount of time we are with patients and families does not allow me to teach them as I would in an inpatient setting. When I worked in the inpatient units, I loved taking students and teaching them. Their eagerness to learn just helped me thrive at what I was doing and made me a better therapist.

“Being at both CCHMC and NKU is like I am living a dream. I get to teach students and still practice on the transport team. I love being in both the classroom and at the hospitals with the students. “It is like I always wanted — I am a teacher and a health care provider.”

Respiratory Care Week

The College of Health Professions at NKU is joining the nation’s health care system to celebrate National Respiratory Care Week Oct. 25-31.

The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) sponsors the week each year during the last full week in October to turn the spotlight on respiratory therapists and the work they do to bring compassionate care to those with breathing problems.

The 2015 theme of Respiratory Care Week is “Respiratory Care Changing the World One Breath at a Time” and respiratory therapists from Maine to California plan to do just that by reaching out to their communities to raise awareness of the conditions they treat.

For more information on respiratory care at NKU, visit our website or contact the Department of Allied Health at (859) 572-5476.

Why Respiratory Care?

“Being a respiratory therapist is an opportunity to help others, to change lives for the better and, in some cases, to save lives. The greatest reward for a respiratory therapist is seeing someone who came into the hospital, having a difficult time breathing and then, after your therapies, their breathing is easier, and that makes their whole life easier."

—Melanie Cundiff, Faculty