To patients for whom the simple act of breathing has become a life-or-death struggle, Larry Cherrison can revive the spirits like a wave of fresh air.

As operations manager of pulmonary diagnostics and procedures at UCI Medical Center in Orange, Cherrison acts as a guide, confidante and counselor to those undergoing treatment for breathing problems. A respiratory therapist since 1969, he understands that a small courtesy, or a few extra minutes of his time, can ease patients’ anxiety.

“I try to treat patients like they’re my family,” Cherrison says.

Sometimes it’s the little things he does that make a difference. When patients call his office and he needs to direct them somewhere else, he won’t just give them another number to call and hang up. He keeps them on the line in a conference call until he’s connected them to the right party.

“Customer service is so important when you’re a patient in a big facility like this,” he says. “Otherwise you can get lost.”

His efforts are appreciated by his colleagues.

“Larry is always looking out for our patients’ best interests,” says Dr. Henri Colt, professor of clinical medicine and director of clinical programs at the medical center’s pulmonary and critical care medicine division. “He is courteous, thoughtful and kind-hearted.”

Cherrison assists Colt with patients during meetings and procedures, such as a bronchoscopy – in which a tube with a tiny camera on the end is inserted through the patient’s nose or mouth into the lungs, providing a view of the airways.

“It’s very important to explain everything to patients and use words they understand,” Cherrison says.

A former church pastor, he has the soothing demeanor of someone who has helped many through difficult times. He also has the easygoing personality of a native California bodysurfer. He’s turning 60 this year, and he still rides the waves.

He’s decorated his office with photos of ocean sunsets, along with pictures of his other loves: his wife, Sheryl, a personnel officer at the UCI School of Medicine, whom he married 40 years ago in September; his four grown children (two are adopted); his former foster children (the couple has cared for 14); and his grandson.

From this “hub,” Cherrison coordinates procedures, juggling schedules for patients, surgery rooms, staff and others – while making every patient feel special.

“I want each patient to feel like the most important person in the world,” he says.