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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Daughter’s difficult birth inspires Respiratory Therapy career choice

July 25, 2016
Respiratory Therapy student Michael Berry
Respiratory Therapist program student balances it all for his wife, Liz, and daughter, Mia.

At 2 years old, Mia is starting to pull herself up and contemplating her first tentative steps toward her parents, Michael and Liz Berry. They are at the ready to catch, encourage and urge her on to her greatest potential. That is what moms and dads do.

Michael took his parental support a good bit further when their daughter’s difficult birth put her on life-saving measures in those first few weeks of her fragile life. “Mia wasn’t breathing when they pulled her out, her lungs were full of fluid and she had a hole in her heart,” says Michael. “She was intubated and still had to have an invasive bypass for an airway.”

Michael understood that all that stood between Mia’s life and disaster was the invasive mechanics of a ventilator that kept her breathing steady. “The Respiratory Therapist’s role was to monitor her vent status and get her lungs opened back up,” he says. Watching these procedures for the month Mia was in ICU changed Michael’s career direction.

Always interested in the medical field, and with lots of units earned toward becoming an X-ray Technician, Michael made the switch to pursue a career as a Respiratory Therapist at SJVC’s Ontario campus. “Everything kind of lined up for me to do this,” he says.

Michael was very familiar with the Ontario campus, as he has worked there since 2010 as First Contact, greeting visitors, staff, faculty and students and providing information and direction to all who inquire. “Everyone comes your way, and we point people in the right direction,” he says.

Michael’s front office position also allowed him to watch the progress of Respiratory Therapy students before he made the jump to RT student himself. “I kept my eye on the (Respiratory Therapy) program and saw how students reacted to it and their capability to pass the program.”

He was encouraged by his observations and started the Respiratory Therapy program in January this year. “Day One was probably my favorite moment,” says Michael. “I had spent so much time trying to get something done, without making much progress, and it finally seemed real.”

Michael has perfect attendance, is a regular on the Dean’s List, volunteers in the community with his classmates and still works part-time at the college. He admits it is quite a balancing act.

“You have to have good time management and a good support system,” says Michael. “Right now, I’m a husband and dad mostly on the weekends, when before I was all hands-on. We have to sacrifice to benefit my family in the long run.”

A lot of responsibility falls to Liz, who works full-time and keeps things running on the home front. “She loves what she does (at the American Cancer Society), and it’s pretty rewarding, but hopefully life will lighten up a little bit when I graduate,” says Michael.

“Michael’s baby girl was born at 39 weeks with complications, necessitating Respiratory Therapists to work with her, and Michael was inspired to become a RT student,” says Ricardo Guzman, Respiratory Therapy Program Director. “Michael is an important part of our family and his story is what makes us do what we do day-after-day.”

Michael has never been more certain that a career in Respiratory Therapy is the right one for him. “The role of a knowledgeable RT is vital,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities for RTs. Everyone has to breathe.”

Now that he has discovered the perfect career fit, Michael plans to take it through to a Bachelor’s degree. He has no shortage of discipline and ambition. His perfect source of inspiration lies a little closer to home.

“Mia, my little stinker, is doing a lot better and has come a long way,” he says. “She is a little behind on some milestones, and her daily routine is a little different than that of others, but she’s a happy baby and always has a smile on her face. She will walk when she feels like walking. It’s all on Mia’s time.”

However time and success are measured, the Berry family has it pretty well figured out.