CLARKSBURG — Job opportunities for respiratory therapists are growing throughout West Virginia, according to projections from WorkForce West Virginia.

The Associated Press reports that nearly 9 percent of West Virginia adults have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or conditions that cause trouble breathing, such as emphysema and bronchitis.

The state has the fourth highest COPD rate in the United States.

People with the condition keep the respiratory therapists at United Hospital Center busy, according to respiratory therapy supervisor Gary Johnson.

He points to high smoking rates in West Virginia.

“Long-term smoking will lead to COPD,” Johnson said.

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing, including those with chronic conditions such as asthma or emphysema.

Respiratory therapists also may provide emergency care to patients with breathing problems, including those suffering from heart attacks, stroke, drowning or shock.

“It is a huge responsibility,” Johnson said. “That’s why I think we are such a specialized department, due to the fact that we are a support department to every department in the hospital.”

See Sunday's edition for more details.