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Bonnie Walters

Respiratory Therapist/Amateur Astronomer

What is your occupation?

I've been a Registered Respiratory Therapist since 1980.  As a respiratory therapist, I worked in every area of the hospital.  You see, every person has a set of lungs, so no matter what else might be wrong with them, those lungs need to be kept healthy.  I've worked with all ages.  I've recovered 2 day old infants from heart surgery to 90 year olds, also recovering from heart surgery!  My favorite areas are intensive care, operating and recovery rooms, and emergency rooms.  I also enjoy assisting in special procedures such as bronchoscopies and working with trauma situations in the ER.  I've worked every different shift possible - days, pm's and nights.  The hours can vary, too.  8-12 hours are the norm but when the hospital is hopping and they're short-staffed 16-hour shifts are not uncommon.

When my son was born, I moved from direct patient contact to education.  I became a contract instructor for our local medical center.  I do miss working in the hospital with direct patient contact.  However, my youngest child does have asthmatic symptoms when she get a cold and I need to give her breathing treatments round the clock - just like in the pediatric ward!

How did you become a Respiratory Therapist?

I attended a community college and graduated with an AA in Respiratory Therapy.  During my schooling I attended clinical rotations through some of the large Southern California medical centers - Long Beach Memorial Hospital, UCI Medical Center and St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange.  We covered Cardiac, Intensive, Neonatal, and Pediatric Intensive Care Units.  I also rotated through the Burn and Rehabilitation Units.

What got you interested in medicine as a career?

It all goes back to my earlier fascination in anatomy and physiology.  The human body is a miracle.  The way all its systems interact is a miracle.  To work in medicine is one of the greatest challenges I know.  To help heal people physically and emotionally is, in itself, one of the greatest rewards.

Do children ever need a Respiratory Therapist?  Do you work with children?

I worked 11 years as medical staff at an asthma camp.  Our camp took only severely asthmatic children.  Some of these children missed over 45 days of school due to their asthma.  They could be hospitalized two to three times a year.  Several of them succumbed to their disease over the years.  We did more at camp than pass medications.  We educated the children on their disease.  We gave them a support system that showed them that they were NOT alone, that there were other children just like them.  We taught them to take charge of their disease, become responsible with their medications and to know their bodies.  They needed to take responsibility for recognizing their signs and symptoms, and to know when to take their medicines.  No one likes a "tough guy" if it lands them in the hospital because they didn't take their medicines just to be cool.  I've worked with local asthma groups giving lectures and setting up educational classes for all ages, from children to grownups.  Unfortunately, there are many other diseases that affect children and many require evaluations and treatments from respiratory therapists.

What do you do for the American Heart Association?

I an instructor in Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support, but I also work at the State level.  I am currently halfway through a two-year appointment on the AHA Western Regional Emergency Cardiac Care Committee and have been elected to the Vice-Chairman position.  This committee covers both Nevada and California.  We make policies for implementing AHA's educational programs.  We meet twice a year either in Northern or Southern California.  Locally, I am on the ECC Quality Assurance Committee, which does the same thing but at the local level.  The people I work with are committed, energetic, caring and wonderful.  People really are the key to keeping an organization running smoothly.

What do you do as a representative to the County Medical Association's Executive Board?

I am a liaison for the Medical Alliance to the Medical Association's Board.  The Medical Alliance is comprised of the physicians' spouses.  As their representative, I am the director for the Board's Community Medical Internship.  In this Internship, we take business leaders and have them follow physicians for two days.  This program helps with communication between the community-at-large and physicians.  The interns always come away awed at how many different things a physician can pack into their day.  They are educated on the medical system and are amazed at the constraints placed upon the physician/patient relationship by legislative rules and regulations.  Along that vein, I am a legislative Key Contact for the California Medical Association and am on the CMA Alliance legislation committee.  We stay current with legislative actions concerning medicine, physicians in particular.  We then communicate with the legislators and try to keep them informed on how a certain piece of legislation might affect medicine.  We also pass this information to our members to keep them in the loop.

What do your children and husband think of your job?

My husband is a pulmonary (lung) specialist so our jobs really overlap.  We worked together in the same hospital for several years and made a good team!  Sometimes we speak a medical language all our own.  My children are always amazed at all the things I do (just as I am at all the things they do!).  They've been to the hospital while I've taught classes and have assisted in our club's star parties.  They've even attended many of my board meetings.  I try to include them in the many things I do as I feel it gives them a wonderful exposure to different fields (science, astronomy and medicine).

How did you become an amateur astronomer?

I don't know that anyone becomes an amateur astronomer by doing anything in particular.  You just need to love looking up at the sky (day or night!).  You can begin by studying the constellations and observing the night sky with a pair of binoculars.  You can see so much with just your own eyes and binoculars.  If it really does grab your fancy, then you progress to studying sky charts to locate galaxies, nebulas and star clusters.  You might even buy a telescope.  You can take an astronomy course if you wish.  Also, join a local astronomy club or group.  Most have public "star parties" where they all bring out their various telescopes and share with everyone!  Ours gives free public lectures covering many fascinating topics.  We even do "telescope clinics" where you bring your new or unused telescope and they show you how to use it!  Some amateur astronomers do research and many contribute to scientific data.  We all know many amateurs find comets - could you imagine having a comet with your last name on it?

Does your family like astronomy as much as you do?

My husband is as fascinated by astronomy as I am.  There are times we all lay out in the backyard and point out objects with binoculars.  It usually leads to interesting discussions about vast distances and life elsewhere.  My son can operate both my 5-inch and 8-inch telescopes.  My 8 year old loves looking through the binoculars and is getting quite adept with them.  My youngest can describe what she sees in the telescopes clearly so I know she is really seeing the objects.  It's still tough for her to use binoculars but she has eagle eyes and can point out the planets and some of the major constellations!  During the Leonid Meteor shower last November (2001), our whole family got up and laid in lounge chairs and on the cement.  It was spectacular!  We gave up counting but were seeing about 600-700 meteors per hour.  The kids would take turns calling out the colors of the streaks.  We stayed up til 0345.

Do you speak, read or write in other languages?

I used to be fluent speaking, reading, and writing in Japanese.  That was many years ago.  If you don't use a language you lose the skills.  I can still read simple Hiragana and Katakana alphabets but my understanding and grammar are very limited.

Do your children speak Japanese or a second language?

Yes!  My older two children just finished their second year of Japanese school.  The school not only teaches language arts but culture as well.  They learn about Japanese traditions and holidays.  It's been a good experience for them - and for me!  Their vocabulary is just above me now and I would need to do some serious studying to keep up!  Even the youngest can say simple words and count to 20 in Japanese.

What advantages do you find with being able to communicate in more than one language?  How has it helped you in your everyday life?

A few times I had patients in the hospital who spoke only Japanese.  While my Japanese wasn't perfect, they were able to understand my instructions and what was expected of them.  At Mt. Wilson, I have a great time speaking simple Japanese with the middle school kids during their school's operating run.  Even though my Japanese is very poor, they appreciate the effort to speak their language.  They even clapped for me once!

I think knowing a second language gives you a broader view of the world and an understanding for other cultures.  It makes the world seem less vast and connects us with each other.  I know traveling to other countries has the same effect.  It also helps us develop a patience and tolerance with each other.  I think these are important traits to develop.

What advice do you have for students around the world?

It's hard when you are in school and don't see where your education can possibly lead you.  Sometimes education seems like something to get through for the moment.  But learning never ends.  Life would be so dull if it did.  It's tough when people always ask you what you want to do for the rest of your life.  Don't feel bad if you take awhile to sort out the answer.  Some people know from day one.  Others go through several career changes before they settle on the one they love.  If you asked me 20 years ago, would I have ever imagined doing the things I'm doing now - the answer would have been nope, never.  So ... NEVER say NEVER!  Find something you are passionate about - then go DO IT!

Bonnie's Biography

- 25 July 2002


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Last Updated:
18 February 2003

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