Thompson Rivers University

Respiratory Therapy alum breathes new life into equipment for RT students

  Posted on: August 1, 2022

Wendy Marlow

RT alum Wendy Marlow.

Respiratory Therapy alum breathes new life into equipment for RT students

Sometimes success is a matter of being in the right place at the right time — something Wendy Marlow (RT diploma, UCC ’85) is a big believer in.

If Marlow’s name looks familiar to Kamloopsians, it’s because she’s the executive director of the Kamloops Hospice Association, a position she’s held for the past 10 years.

But before that, Marlow had a storied career in respiratory therapy, taking on leadership positions with Associated Respiratory Services (ARS), becoming a shareholder in the company and later, forming a foundation to give to respiratory projects.

That foundation — the Associated Respiratory Holdings (ARH) Healthcare Foundation — recently donated $55,000 so that TRU could purchase a cutting-edge Servo-u ventilator. The ventilator will help students in the RT program practise current modes of ventilation in its simulation labs so that they’re more prepared when they go into clinical training.

From RT student to donor

As part of UCC’s second RT cohort, Marlow couldn’t be more pleased about the donation.

RT Chair Mike Lemphers is equally enthusiastic. “This is the newest generation of mechanical ventilators that’s out in health care right now,” he says. “It has unique ways it can breathe for people that are not available with other ventilators. This new model is very much needed.”

Lemphers has known Marlow for years. “She’s always been a caring person who wants to give back to the profession of respiratory therapy,” he says.

As it turns out, as the daughter of a nurse, Marlow never anticipated a career in the medical field — but life had other plans.

The start of an unlikely career

One of Marlow’s first jobs was in hospital admitting. She was intrigued and started reading about medical careers. That’s when she came across respiratory therapy.

“I loved the diversity of it, I loved the idea of moving around and seeing different people,” she says.

Marlow heard good things about University College of the Cariboo’s fledgling RT program and was among its first graduates in 1985.

Her first job in RT was working in the ICU at Vancouver Children’s Hospital. She then took a position with ARS (now VitalAire) in homecare in Kamloops, visiting and assessing people in their homes and setting them up with oxygen.

In the early ’90s, Marlow took on a supervisory role, managing the company’s Kamloops and Vancouver branches and overseeing expansion in the Kootenays.

“I was just so keen and learning,” she says. “I loved leadership, so then I took on all of BC.” She later moved to Mississauga to work in a national role with the organization.

Right place, right time: forming a foundation

Company owner Don Smailes, a respiratory therapist out of Edmonton, invited several employees to become shareholders. Marlow was one of the first two women to join the group.

The business was eventually sold, with funds scheduled to return to the shareholders. But ARS’s stakeholders wanted to do more. They formed a foundation with a percentage of the surplus: the ARH Healthcare Foundation.

“I was so pleased and proud of this group,” says Marlow. “They wanted to give back.”

While the ARH Foundation doesn’t have a formal application process, projects must be respiratory-related. Past recipients have included providing funds for ventilators in third-world countries and for a student to take respiratory training.

When it comes to TRU’s new ventilator, Marlow’s passion shows. “It’s amazing, it’s state-of-the-art… I was thinking back to when I was starting (the RT program), we had the BEAR ventilator and the MA-1 and I’m looking at this thing and going ‘wow.’ The advancement of technology has happened so fast.”

That’s a good thing for future RTs, says Lemphers. “One of our former students talked about having access to this type of equipment — he didn’t have it when he went into clinical. If he had had it, he would have felt much more comfortable starting out in his career.”