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Hratch Kayichaian

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Hratch Kayichian, Respiratory Therapist IV, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical CenterHratch Kayichian, Respiratory Therapist IV, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

Saving lives on the ground and in the air

Hratch has dedicated himself to saving the lives of NICU patients at UCLA through his passion for respiratory therapy.

What are your responsibilities in the NICU?
I wear many hats. I have been working at UCLA since 1993 and started as a respiratory therapist 1, a basic bedside clinician in all areas of the medical center. I still provide bedside patient care and assessment, but I now also evaluate and assess the condition of our ventilators and equipment, and coordinate the use and maintenance of the blood gas analyzers. I also manage a team of 24 respiratory therapists who serve the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the respiratory portion of the neonatal-pediatrics transport team.


What is the neonatal-pediatrics transport team?

The transport team consists of a doctor, nurse and respiratory therapist who accompany and stabilize patients who are en route to UCLA from other hospitals. We have 12 respiratory therapists who are dedicated to transporting newborns and children up to the age of 18. The teams travel by ground, helicopter and small plane to hospitals throughout Southern California to pick up patients who need the higher-level treatment UCLA provides. We cover all of Southern California and sometimes Las Vegas. I did it for 10 years and still go out occasionally when a back-up team is needed.

What's it like to go out on a transport call?
Being on the transport team never gets old. I'm not a flight-happy person, but when I'm on the job, my adrenaline rush never goes down and I am always 100 percent ready. A patient's condition often changes before and during transport and a respiratory therapist needs to be able to recognize and deal with the situation quickly. It is a challenging job, but very rewarding.

As a father with two daughters, do you ever find it difficult to work with babies who are struggling to breathe?
At times, it is difficult to separate myself from the work and sometimes it does get to me. Managing these little lungs and airways really takes a lot of skill. But I'm in one of the happier ICUs that you can be in. Some of the babies stay with us for several months and we have the opportunity to really bond with them and their parents and try to create a friendly, warm and fuzzy environment for the families. When we deal with babies who sometimes start off life as a 600-gram newborn with multiple challenges, and then to see that child at age 1, 2 or 10 years old, playing and enjoying life as a happy and healthy kid, it is incredibly satisfying. When our babies graduate from our unit and go home, parents continue to send us Christmas cards and our reunions are always so fun and well attended.

How did you become interested in respiratory therapy?
I grew up in Lebanon where respiratory schools were nonexistent. A family friend suggested I look into the field, because there was a need for people with this specialized knowledge. In order to pursue it, I needed a medical background, so I completed a three-year nursing program at St. George Hospital in Lebanon and became a registered nurse. I happened to like respiratory therapy so much that I decided to stay with it and not pursue nursing. I moved to the United States in the late 80s, earned a degree in respiratory therapy from the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica Respiratory Program, and started working at UCLA in 1993.

What do you like about working at UCLA?
UCLA is such a big and busy place. On any day, we could have 50 to 75 patients on ventilator support, which is a huge volume. UCLA allows me to be able to evaluate new technologies that give newborns and families a second chance that they wouldn't get in the community, while keeping an eye on customer care and quality-of-service.

What are your other interests?
I go mountain biking every week and also enjoy downhill skiing and deep-sea fishing. In my free time, I play with my high-tech bikes and other equipment. I really enjoy applying technology to my daily life, at work and at home.