Dad’s Illness Spurs Path to Respiratory Care

 Published: March 7, 2018

By: Heather Willden


Kimberly Kuiper with her dad
Kimberly Kuiper and her dad walk down the aisle at her wedding.

Kimberly Kuiper, BS, RRT, has big plans for the South Dakota Society for Respiratory Care (SDSRC) during her term as president, and credits her father as her inspiration for taking the respiratory care career path.

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“My goals are to grow membership, invest more time and efforts toward our students, and to continue hosting an outstanding conference for our RTs,” Kuiper said. “I want our therapists to be encouraged and excited by the things we are working hard on, and I would love to see fresh faces come forward to help us accomplish these goals!”

Only a few years ago, Kuiper was one of those fresh faces herself.

Time for a career change

Kimberly Kuiper
Kimberly Kuiper, BS, RRT

“I became interested in becoming a respiratory therapist when my dad suffered a severe hemothorax as a result of complications from a thoracentesis,” Kuiper said. “He had 10+ blood transfusions in five weeks and no one could seem to understand why he kept losing blood until his respiratory system started to suffer.”

Finally a chest x-ray confirmed his left lung cavity was full and he was rushed back into surgery for an emergent thoracotomy. A lengthy stay in the ICU followed, and it was there that Kuiper got her first look at the profession.

“I was able to observe the respiratory therapists provide a variety of treatments and got to know many of them on a personal level,” she said. “My passion for respiratory care was born in those moments and I knew that I needed to make a career change.”

Soul searching

At the time, Kuiper, who graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant, and institution management in 2007, had just moved back to South Dakota from Minneapolis.

Due to the recession, jobs in her chosen field were limited, and she had been working in sales, but wasn’t really emotionally attached to any of the companies or products she was representing.

After her dad’s medical problems arose, she started evaluating her career and life passions and knew respiratory care would be right for her.

What struck her most about the RTs caring for her dad was the empathy and compassion they had for him. They celebrated every small improvement in his ability to do his therapy. They cheered him on every day he was down a liter of oxygen from the day before.

When he faced a setback, they shared his frustration and encouraged him to keep going.

“I appreciated getting to know the team and hearing their story about why they became RTs,” Kuiper said. “I realized that I had a lot in common with the people that were taking care of him and I wanted to do something that would be more fulfilling. The respiratory therapists seemed to have a large amount of pride in their work and it inspired me.”

The best feeling

A few months later, Kuiper was enrolled in the RT program at Des Moines Area Community College and on her way to becoming an RT herself.

“Kerry George, MEd, RRT, RRT-ACCS, FAARC, was my program director and he was tough!” she said. “He would probably laugh a little at me saying that, but I know he was tough for a reason. He pushes his students and challenged us to do the best thing for the patient, even if it isn’t the most popular thing. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from his experience as a student and now as a professional.”

Kuiper started her RT career while still a student, taking on a job as a respiratory therapy technician in 2011.

She eventually moved back to Sioux Falls and took a job at Sanford Medical Center, where she did bedside therapy and worked in the adult ICU.

“My favorite thing about working bedside would be when we would get a very sick patient that most likely required mechanical ventilation — and other involved therapy,” she said.

She loved helping them through that crisis and watching them progress from lying in a bed to walking down the halls and smiling and waving when they saw her go by.

“The heartfelt ‘Thank Yous’ from patients and their loved ones — that was always the best feeling in the world,” Kuiper said.

Creating positive change

While she loved bedside care, Kuiper decided to make a major career change in March of 2016 and join GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). She initially worked on a contract for one of the company’s inhaled maintenance medications, and then moved to the biologics division last May, where she currently serves as a respiratory biologics educator.

Now she spends her days going out to hospitals in eight states in the upper Midwest to train staff and patients on a medication designed to treat severe asthma.

Kuiper says it was tough making the decision to leave her hospital and her patients but believes her job at GSK is giving her the chance to take her bedside respiratory care experiences and create positive change for the patient at the manufacturer’s level.

“I have always enjoyed teaching others and empowering patients to take charge of their own health,” she said. “This role allows me to do those things and challenges me in very different ways than any of the previous positions I have held.”

Proud daughter

As for Kuiper’s dad, he has continued to demonstrate the perseverance his RTs saw in him when he was hospitalized following complications from the thoracentesis. Even a triple bypass couldn’t keep him from walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

The photo you see at the top of this article was snapped just three weeks after the surgery.

Says his very proud daughter: “The man has nine lives!”

Email with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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