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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Respiratory Therapy graduate finds career calling caring for his grandmother with COPD

July 19, 2018

Rancho Cordova Respiratory Care graduate Yowty ChaoSeven years ago when Yowty Chao started dating his future wife Dorothy, he had no idea that Dorothy’s grandmother would come to have such a strong influence on his life…and his career.

Yowty and Dorothy had been dating long enough to know that they were in a serious relationship, and Yowty’s connection to her family began to deepen, especially with Dorothy’s grandmother.

“Grandma had COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and I was in close communication with her doctor and her respiratory therapists,” says Yowty. “At that time, I had no idea what respiratory therapy was, I just knew that my grandmother needed help and I needed to learn everything I could to help care for her.”

While helping his grandmother with respiratory equipment and therapies, Yowty learned a lot more than the specialized care required to keep her breathing. “She was my teacher,” says Yowty. “She taught me a lot about our culture.”

Yowty’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Southeast Asia in 1989 with very little to their name. “I was a child of refugees who came from poverty, who came from nothing,” he says. His parents strove to succeed in America. His father Vern becoming an engineer at a hospital and his mother Chang a full-time seamstress.

But Yowty never really explored his heritage and knew little of his home country’s customs and beliefs. His grandmother opened a window to a new understanding of his family culture. “She was our family historian who was always telling me stories and teaching me the ways our culture would do things,” he says. By the time Yowty and Dorothy married three years later, Grandma was officially and emotionally his, as well.

Grandma’s influence was felt at every level of Yowty’s life. “She gave me a deeper love of my wife; she taught me how to care for her, all the little nuances about her. She taught me the principle of being patient. She made me a better husband. She also taught me to extend more grace in all situations.”

Grandma also taught Yowty the selflessness of serving the needs of others, as he served her those years she required help for every breath. It was in her service that he discovered his deep interest in respiratory therapy as potential for his own career.

“She helped me realize that I love taking care of people in the context of health care, and respiratory therapy specifically,” says Yowty. He was ready to take what he had learned at her side to a professional level.

When Yowty was just 21, their beloved grandmother lost her struggle with respiratory disease. Her years of influence were cherished and many important moments were shared. “We were so grateful she was able to be at our wedding of 250 people and the joining of our two clans,” says Yowty.

Yowty was now even more determined to pursue the profession his grandmother had stirred in him.

He had researched several Respiratory Therapy programs, but when he toured SJVC’s Rancho Cordova campus he knew he had found his path to career success. “My admissions advisor Stephanie Taylor set the tone for my image of SJVC,” he says. “The students were very welcoming and encouraging to potential students. Showing me that hospitality was one of the most memorable things about my first impression. I enrolled right then and there.”

By this time, Yowty was almost 24 years old. He and Dorothy had been married for three years and had son Oren, who was almost a year old.  They lived too far away from campus for Yowty to commute every day, so they had to depend on family to help them make the logistics of his education goals a success. Dorothy was working full-time, so everybody pitched in with childcare.

“It was essentially all hands on deck,” says Yowty. “My mother-in-law, multiple aunts and uncles watched Oren.” Yowty stayed with his parents many nights to save commute time. “I was blessed with food, water and a place to lay my head down. I didn’t have to worry about anything else but to complete the program.”

As it turned out, the Respiratory Therapy program required his full attention.

By the second week of his program, Yowty knew he had to find a way to keep from drowning in all the information coming at him. The answer was simple, but powerful: Study groups.

“We had 20 students, and study groups ranged from 3 to 8 people at any time,” says Yowty. “After school in the library, we drew all over a whiteboard and gave lectures to each other just to reinforce the learning. We changed group leaders for discussions that played to each of our strengths.”

The study groups proved to be a powerful tool for information retention. It also reinforced their commitment to their individual and group success. “We encouraged each other and reminded each other of the fact that we were all in it together. We made it personal.”

One memorization technique the groups used was coming up with crazy acronyms to lock in complicated medical terminologies. For instance, Total Lung Capacity Inspiratory Capacity Residual Volume, or TLCICRV, became The Loving Couple (Ate) Ice Cream in the Recreational Vehicle. There is no rule against having a little fun along the way.

Their shared struggles, successes and discoveries evolved into more than they sought. “I didn’t expect to find deep friendships there; I was just thinking to get my education and proceed with my career,” says Yowty. “I didn’t know I would make lifelong friends. That’s the biggest surprise.”

Yowty’s leadership was a magnate for fellow students to find and help each other. “Yowty is always willing to help other students and is consistently on time and ready to work,” says James Maddox, Respiratory Therapy instructor. “He has shown tremendous personal growth and commitment to becoming an outstanding respiratory therapist and clinician.”

Yowty recently graduated with a 3.91 GPA and is ready to demonstrate his passion for serving the respiratory care needs of others. “Getting to meet patients and treat patients were the best highlights of the whole program,” he says. “Interacting with patients was something that drove me and that I looked forward to.”

“In every patient I have seen, I’ve seen images of my grandmother,” says Yowty. “And I treat them as such, with patience, kindness and gentleness, as much as I can.”

His grandmother would be happy that the many seeds she planted in Yowty’s heart and spirit are bearing such abundant fruit.

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