A career worth chopping
I became interested in Vance Fishel’s occupation because in 1961 my premature, twin babies died right after birth due to under-developed lungs. Today, they may have been saved.
When a premature baby treated at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital gets old enough to ask where he came from, his parents won’t say “the stork brought you.” Instead, they will say “Vance brought you to us.”
Vance Fishel, a cousin of mine, is a respiratory therapist at the hospital. When on duty he goes to whatever unit of the hospital where a patient needs help with breathing problems. If he treats a patient in the emergency ward for breathing difficulties, he also takes care of them when they are admitted.
The hospital has about 45 therapists. Fishel’s other duties include educating the therapists, physicians and nurses on the use of newer equipment and procedures. His schedule is three, 12-hour days and every third weekend. His job title is: Vance J. Fishel, RRT/NPS, Lead Therapist, Respiratory Care Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center.
He also goes out in the helicopter to outlying hospitals to bring premature babies back for care at Lutheran. The equipment he needs is in a container ready to go. The 225-pound container on wheels goes along on the helicopter. It contains the equipment Fishel needs to treat the tiny patients, including a warmer, IV pumps and a ventilator in the isolette.
When he is on call, he has to be ready to go in 20 minutes. Before he could go as a helicopter therapist, he had to take a ride in the machine to see if he was capable of treating a baby under flying circumstances. He had no problems.
The training includes a simulated under-water egress from a swamped aircraft.
When he was a kid he wanted to fly an Apache helicopter. The premature babies average about three pounds and are as young as 26 weeks. “Some are so small I can hold them in the palm of my hand,” he said.
“Their skin is transparent, and their eyes are not yet open. The problem is the lungs are not developed enough for the baby to breathe alone,” Fishel said.
The crew, consisting of the pilot, paramedic, respiratory therapist and physician assistant, stay at the scene until the baby is stabilized enough for travel.
Fishel said he has never lost a baby en route, but some have died afterward.
He said that sometimes the children come back to visit him. He said he likes to see the babies, healthy and happy. He feels that he has accomplished something important.
When Fishel graduated from high school he went into construction work like his father, John. The thing about that profession was that he was away from home most of the time. After a long day on the job he and his buddies stopped at the local watering holes for a cool brew.
The trouble was, he didn’t stop at one or two. When the festivities were over he’d head back to the hotel, sleep, get up and do the same thing all over again. After seven years of this, “I woke up one morning and I knew I could no longer go on like this,” Fishel confessed.
He left the job and returned home. He looked into learning another profession that would pay as well as construction. He studied at Western Technical and was hired at Gundersen Lutheran before he finished.
He attributed his work ethic – demonstrated by his dad – as a reason for getting the job. Fishel said he is also thankful for the support he received from Mike Ott and Fred Burkhart, Rachel’s grandpa. He married Rachel Ott and “got two wonderful little girls at the same time.”
At 39 he is proud of his life now, and has not had a drink for 11 years. Fishel and his wife live in LaCrescent. Rachel is the principal at St. Peter’s school in Hokah.
When Fishel is off duty, his favorite pastime is fishing. “I can see the Mississippi from my back yard. My life is a lot different now,” he concluded.
P.S. Vance’s dad, John, told me that while on construction work, Vance was the best damn machine operator they ever had. “He could put that shovel of dirt right where they wanted it with no extra maneuvering.”