Respiratory Therapy student’s recovery from COVID-19 pushes her to help others
Sarah Auricchio ’21 remembers the heavy feeling in her chest, the challenge to breathe, and the nervousness about whether she should head to the hospital. In early 2020, when Auricchio and her York College of Pennsylvania classmates returned home because of COVID-19 shutdowns, she found herself in one of the country’s hotspots: her hometown of Long Island, New York. Her mother also works in healthcare, and Auricchio and her family braced for what they assumed was inevitable—that they would contract the coronavirus.
Since recovering from that early infection, Auricchio has looked at her career path in a whole new light. She already felt a deep connection to the Respiratory Care program at York College, but living through COVID-19 and still working through some of the long-term impacts of the virus, she’s never felt better about her chosen field of study.
Making a change
Auricchio has been at York College for five years. When she first arrived on campus as a Nursing student, she faced some unexpected setbacks. She was hospitalized for pneumonia and diagnosed with asthma as a first-year student, not realizing that a suppressed immune system made her vulnerable to respiratory illnesses.
“Getting a diagnosis really helped me learn how to manage my illness,” she says. “For the longest time, I didn’t know what was going on or why I was sick all the time. My personal experience changed how I wanted to help people in the medical field.”
Auricchio switched majors and jumped into the respiratory therapy field to help others who went through similar experiences. She also takes daily inhalers to help manage her symptoms, so she has a unique understanding of the medications she sometimes administers to patients.
When she had to go on two weeks of bed rest during her COVID-19 recovery, Auricchio was reminded of why she wanted to be a respiratory therapist. “It helped me understand how bad it really can be and how cautious everyone needs to be to take those extra steps and think of others during this time,” she says. “It is scary. Being in the hospital all the time now working with patients and seeing the damage that it can cause to others is really heartbreaking.”
The experience to succeed
Beyond her own encounters, Auricchio is equipped with the skills to help others. She credits her clinical experience at York College, the close relationships she has with her professors, and a hardworking college culture for getting her to this point. She hopes to return to New York and work in the communities that were hit hardest by the pandemic.
“I believe once I graduate, I’ll be one of the most educated new students to come out of the field,” she says. “York College prepared me for that.”