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From coal miner to respiratory therapist: One Harlan County man’s journey

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 2:13 PM EST
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HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - For many people, being laid off can be detrimental to their future. A man in Harlan County used it as an opportunity to get an education.

Jonathan Holbrook said he went straight to work in the coal mines after graduating high school in 2005.

”In the mines you got a little 20 foot area. It is anywhere from 5 foot high to 25 foot high there is always something going on,” Holbrook explained.

He stayed in the field until he was laid off a few years ago.

“I thought I was going to retire from the mines just seeing the way the economy’s got the downtrend of the coal mines,” said Holbrook. “I figured, you know, everything is pretty well shutting down around here and I didn’t want to uproot my family to go chase coal mines.”

After being laid off, he decided to go to college to become a respiratory therapist.

“What really got me interested in respiratory was when my son was born in 2015. He was born early and his lungs weren’t developed,” Holbrook said.

With some help from the Harlan County Community Action Agency and Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, he was able to make that goal a reality in 2019.

“Seeing him accomplish this goal was just a blessing and I am everyday just humbled by it,” said Erica Farmer-Miller, SKCTC Recruiter and Adviser.

As his family at home cheers him on, so does his extended family at Southeast.

“He’s weathered the storm, and I feel like that’s what miners do and that’s what Harlan County does. That’s what Southeast does, we weather the storm, and here we are,” added Farmer-Miller.

Holbrook’s hard work is paying off, and he plans to take his board exams in December.

”I believe it will pay off in the end because, I mean, there is always going to be somebody that needs help breathing,” Holbrook said.

He said he also plans to get a bachelor’s degree in teaching.

You can find out what programs the college offers here.

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