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M Health Fairview Respiratory Therapist Carrie Brill is retiring this June after a nearly 50-year career with our health system that began in 1972. "When a patient says, 'You saved my life,' I don’t think there is anything better than that," Brill said.

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Respiratory Therapist Carrie Brill’s 50-year career spans Operation Desert Storm, COVID-19 pandemic

The motto “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters,” has guided Respiratory Therapist Carrie Brill through a remarkable 50-year career with M Health Fairview.

  • May 24, 2021
  • By Staff Writer

When Carrie Brill began her career as a respiratory therapist in 1972, the field of respiratory therapy was a brand-new concept. “I was in the school’s second-ever graduating class,” said Brill, reflecting on her early training.

After a five-decade career that spans Operation Desert Storm and the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as many medical and technological innovations – Brill is preparing to retire this June. Through it all, she has remained incredibly passionate about the people under her care: “Seeing people who have been hospitalized with respiratory diseases, cardiac diseases, or other serious conditions walk out of the hospital is the best thing,” Brill said.

We asked Brill to reflect on her incredible career – and the service and commitment she and other respiratory therapists demonstrate on a daily basis for our patients. Here’s what she had to say.

Can you give us a little bit of background on your training?

I went to school to specialize in respiratory therapy. In fact, I was in the school’s second-ever graduating class. I was also in the U.S. Army Reserves for 21 years. During Operation Desert Storm, I worked in an army hospital in San Antonio, Texas, where I was listed as “essential” staff due to the need for respiratory therapists to treat returning soldiers. I was an SFC-E7, so was placed in charge when working second or third shift and all the time on weekends. Over the years, the most important thing has been to keep up with the way the field of respiratory therapy has changed. The equipment and processes have changed so much – the field is much more intense now than it was when I began.

Interested in becoming a respiratory therapist? M Health Fairview has several open positions. Learn more.

Have you spent your entire career at M Health Fairview?

I have spent almost 50 years at M Health Fairview (although the hospitals have had different names over the years). I briefly took a leave of absence early in my career to care for family in Wisconsin, but I came back to the Twin Cities as soon as I was able. I have been at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center – East Bank for the last 10+ years.

What drives you? Why are you passionate about respiratory therapy?

Seeing people who have been hospitalized with respiratory diseases, cardiac diseases, or other serious conditions walk out of the hospital is the best thing. From early on, I adopted the mindset of, “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.” That has always guided my practice.

At the same time, it’s important to focus on the whole patient, not just on their breathing. I feel that I’m able to talk with patients, interact with them, and get a feeling of the whole person, which helps me care for them better. I try to make every patient’s stay a little more pleasant as well. I want them to know that I’m interested in them as a person, not just as a patient. I like to get to know patients outside of what they’re in the hospital for, and I take pride in being there for them.

When a patient says, “You saved my life,” I don’t think there is anything better than that.

What are your strengths as a respiratory therapist?

If I can advocate for the patient, I do. For example, recently I had a patient who was scheduled for discharge, but he didn’t look quite ready to go home. I asked him whether he felt ready, and he said that he did not. I could have continued with my rounds, but instead I talked to someone about it. The team changed his discharge date, and later that night, he ran into problems. If he had been at home, he might have died. I talked with him the next day, and we were both so happy that he had stayed in the hospital.

Have you taken care of patients with COVID-19 over the past year?

I didn’t work in the ICU with patients on ventilators, but I did help to care for COVID-positive patients in our other units. Some of them would need breathing treatments or other assistance. Although caring for patients with COVID-19 had some special requirements regarding personal protective equipment and sanitation, I simply focused on doing what I can for them, so that they could get better and go home.

What are you looking forward to doing in retirement?

I hope to do more traveling. I’d like to visit out-of-state relatives that I haven’t been able to see recently because of COVID-19 restrictions. I’m an accomplished equestrian, and I plan to continue enjoying that. I’m a big dog lover, too, so I hope to take my dog on some of my trips. Beyond that, I will make sure to focus on staying healthy as I get older.