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Alumna treating COVID patients with swallowing disorders

Mar 03, 2021

Christina Sweet (BA 2006, MA 2008) works on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, treating patients with a common but little-known consequence of the virus: dysphagia, a swallowing disorder.

A speech language pathologist (SLP) at Silver Tree Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Sweet helps patients re-learn one of the most basic human functions. COVID-19 damages the respiratory system, making it difficult for those in recovery to swallow.

“If you’re having trouble coordinating your breathing because of COVID, it’s like inhaling while eating a powdered donut,” said Sweet, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s from OLLU's Woolfolk School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD). “It goes down the wrong way. Not only does it hurt. But it could increase the risk of pneumonia.”

Since 2013, Sweet has been a supervisory clinician for CSD graduate students. She prepares them to become entry level clinicians after graduation. And she helps them treat COVID patients with swallowing issues.

CSD graduate student Katie Dugan has worked closely with Sweet. “She was an amazing supervisor to have at my first field placement,” Dugan said.

Christine Carmichael, PhD, Professor of Communication Disorders, is grateful for Sweet’s expertise and service.

“We need more competent SLPs like Christina on the front line to evaluate and treat patients who are experiencing swallowing problems from COVID-19,” Dr. Carmichael said.

The Harry Jersig Speech-Language-Hearing Center, operated by OLLU's Woolfolk School of Communication Sciences and Diorders, has not yet treated COVID-19 patients. But Dr. Carmichael expects those who required hospital and in-patient rehab care to seek treatment at the Jersig Center through SLP recommendations, physician orders and self-referrals.

“We are ready to provide respiratory, voice and swallowing care for post-COVID-19 patients at HJC,” Dr. Carmichael said. “And we appreciate alumni like Christina in leadership roles who continue to use knowledge and experience to train future SLPs and to help those who have suffered dysphagia as a result of this pandemic.”