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Ray Janisse is a little emotional. The veteran respiratory therapist (RT) isn't quite ready to leave behind his professional family of more than 30 years.
"We have laughed and cried, we have had marriages, babies, and sometimes deaths," says Ray. "We KNOW each other's business, and I haven't quite accepted that I won't be seeing them everyday anymore."
The Charge Therapist for Toronto General Hospital's (TGH) Respiratory Therapy Department has been with UHN since 1989 when he was attending what was then the Toronto Institute of Medical Technology (TIMT), now known as the Michener Institute of Education at UHN.
A freak accident caused a broken ankle that led to the end of a competitive gymnastics and coaching career. But the desire to teach and to help people continued to drive him.
Ray had a family member who was an RT and the idea of providing true life support by helping people to breathe, seemed like a path worth exploring.
"What I enjoy most about the job is the continuous learning, and then transferring that knowledge to others, so that we can save lives," says Ray. "Recently, I was part of a research study that looked at whether high doses of nitrous oxide might help patients with COVID recover quicker.
"Our investigation might actually help people, in the here and now. That's incredibly rewarding."
Unlike his younger colleagues, Ray was at the bedside, working as an RT during the SARS epidemic in 2003, and he suspected from the early days that COVID-19 was a different disease altogether.
Ray needed PPE for his team, as well as extra equipment like ventilator circuits and inline suctions for the ICUs, and very quickly he was part of the UHN COVID planning committee, trying to ensure the safety of all TeamUHN.
"From a leadership perspective, it was very challenging," says Ray. "Essentially we were trying to figure out how to support a mass casualty event.
"Thankfully we were as prepared as we could be, and even though we were extremely busy UHN did not see the number of patients we had planned for. Things did not get as bad here as they did in other places around the world."
'I learned things I never knew I would learn'
Managing through a global medical emergency is only one of the many challenges Ray has been afforded in his three-decade-long career.
Leading the opening of the first rectangular hyperbaric facility in North America at UHN paved the way for his TGH leadership in hyperbaric medicine. As UHN's course director, Ray went on to develop, implement and roll out the "Introductory Course in Hyperbaric Medicine," which has trained numerous UHN staff who expressed interest in becoming Certified Hyperbaric Technologist, with the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology in the USA and Canada.
"When I became a supervisor back in 2003, I discovered how much of our involvement went beyond just patient care in the ICU," says Ray. "The Department of Respiratory Therapy offers support UHN wide, working with departments such as facilities, Plexxus, UHN Procurement, Medical Engineering and infrastructure.
"I found the supervisory role allowed me so much opportunity for growth. I learned things I never knew I would learn as an RT lead, including opportunities that allowed me to be involved all over UHN as a decision maker."
For a man who was inspired by the art of learning, motivating, and passing on not just information, but wisdom too, things appear to be coming full circle. One of the new Charge Therapists is a young man Ray has been mentoring for the last 10 years.
"When I first met Phil and asked what he wanted to do, he said he wanted my job when I retired," says Ray. "It's bittersweet for me, because I've done what I set out to do, I've accomplished everything I could have imagined."
There is a slight wobble in his voice, but Ray Janisse is a goal-focused man, and he still has things to do, and fires to put out. He says goodbye with a heartfelt thank you to everyone he has had the opportunity to collaborate with over the years as he moves on to the next chapter in his journey.
"Goodbye my friends."