Manny Likou: a minister of respiratory therapy

Monday, March 31, 2003

After serving 44 years in a 9-to-5 job, most people would gladly retire and take it easy.

But Manny Likou, RRT, president of Total Home Health, isn’t most people. His job - working with ventilator-dependent patients - definitely isn’t 9-to-5. And taking it easy just isn’t his style, so he will continue to work long days and be on call 24/7 for his patients, even though his age calendar says 65.

“To me, retirement would be a 9-to-5, 40-hour week,” he said with a laugh. “But as long as I’ve got my health and the strength to keep it up, I will. When it’s enough, I’ll know it.”

Likou’s omnipresence is a big part of what makes him an icon in his field. Those close to him say his energy is limitless when it comes to meeting his patient’s needs; meaning he’ll scour every option to find the right equipment, conduct his own negotiations with payers to eek out more coverage and doggedly counsel referral sources on the advantages of new technology.

“He has developed a tremendous continuum of care - starting with assessment in the hospital,” said David Fowler, director of sales at Pulmonetic Systems, a Minneapolis-based ventilator manufacturer. “He has developed a home ventilator program based on the way an RT would want to manage it, with lots of education and community outreach.”

To say Likou carries a missionary’s zeal toward his job is more than just an analogy. He is a devout member of the Willow Creek Community Church and participates in the church’s Medical Ministry. In serving one of Chicago’s largest congregations, Likou has organized a number of on-campus health fairs, conducting public glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and pulse oximetry testing. This summer he plans to host a picnic at the church for ventilator-dependent children.

In his view, those who go on ventilators need some extra help and guidance adjusting to their world. He does his part through providing the right equipment, by being sensitive to their needs and offering tireless education.

“The greatest satisfaction I get from being a respiratory therapist is to help pulmonary challenged patients become productive within their capacity,” he said. “I provide everything within my power to affect that.”

And to think his dedication was almost lost to another health care specialty.

Likou’s family emigrated to Canada from their native Greece after World War II. After serving a stint in the Canadian Army, he got a job in the dietary department at Winnipeg General Hospital.

“I was very good at dietetics and was prepared to go to school for it at Saskatoon,” he said.

But Likou’s fate shifted dramatically when he took notice of a burgeoning field called inhalation therapy.

“One of the nursing superintendents thought I had the mentality and background for it,” Likou recalled. “When I saw the work they were doing, I was very impressed. I then interviewed as an inhalation therapy technician. From then on it was just a matter of training, education, clinical practice and getting registered.”

Likou’s obsessive dedication to his patients stems from a lesson he learned years ago from his mentor, pulmonologist Reuben Cherniak, MD.

“Dr. Cherniak was a pioneer in pulmonary medicine - he wrote a textbook that for years served as the standard,” Likou said. “One of the most important things he told me was ‘If you stand up on the side of the patient, you’ll never go wrong.’”

That was 1959. Although the then-new Sauk polio vaccine was well on its way to eradicating the disease, many of its victims were tethered to 4,000-lb. ventilators known as iron lungs.

“One of the best things to happen in my career is seeing technology go from two tons to 12-lbs.,” said Likou, who has lived in the Chicago area since 1968.

During the course of his four-decade career, Likou has trained at a number of prestigious institutions, including Stanford, UCLA, University of Michigan and University of Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Governor’s State in Illinois (allied health education) and a certificate in hospital department management from the Canadian Hospital Assoc.

Though he has learned much about his profession, the student inside him continually seeks out more. The quest for knowledge is yet another motivator that keeps him going past retirement age.

“I’ve been at it so long, but I still learn something new everyday,” he said. “I’m amazed - every time I wake up, it’s an education.” HME