Teacher who helped special needs woman fulfill EMT dream 'forever' changed
Charles Avery, the EMS programs director at Bainbridge State College, realized he needed to create an all-out celebration of Blair Williams' dream after meeting her for the first time
By Charles Avery, EMS1 Contributor
I remember the day that Blair Williams changed my life forever.
I have served as the EMS programs director at Bainbridge State College for the past five years. I entered my office one morning and turned on my computer to find an email from Jason Rubenbauer, the dean of Health Sciences and Professional Studies. In a very short email, he requested an immediate meeting.
It has been my experience that immediate meetings with the dean are never good.
Once I arrived at the dean's office, he explained the situation with Blair, a women with Down Syndrome interested in EMS, and asked if she could sit in a couple of classes.
I began to think about all of the reasons why it would be a bad idea. As I was telling myself "no," I realized that I am a paramedic and an instructor; it is my job to change lives and allow student to reach their dreams.
Celebrating Blair's dream
I met with Blair and her mother in my office. I originally scheduled a 15-minute meeting, but it soon turned into an hour.
I interviewed Blair just as I do all of my incoming students. We discussed the expectations and I asked her why she wanted to be an EMT. "I just want to help people," she said.
That is when I realized that this has to be an all-out celebration of Blair's dream. Sitting in my office was a young lady who had been dealt a tough hand in life and all she wanted to do was give back to other people.
I agreed to allow Blair to sit in my classes.
Blair was a model student. She took notes to the best of her ability. Her book had highlighter marks on every page we went over.
She sat in class one hour a day and we even found a way to get her in on some practical sessions.
Blair was held to the same standards as my other students. She had to wear her clinical uniform to class every day, and had to participate and take all of the tests the other students took.
Blair's attitude touched every student and instructor who participated in her classes.
There was an issue with Blair being able to attend clinical sessions; it was not safe to have her on an ambulance responding to calls. Nonetheless, she sat in class and listened to her classmates talk about their clinical experiences, dreaming of getting on the ambulance.
She asked me when she could go and ride on the ambulance; I promised her I would make it happen.
Creating a memory for Blair to remember
I called Randy Williams, the director of operations for South Georgia EMS. This is the EMS service that serves Decatur County, Georgia. I expected some hurdles, as this is not something that we do every day.
When I approached Williams, I explained the situation to him. "Whatever you need us to do, we will do," he said.
Wow, what a partnership.
Williams put me in contact with Dana Griffin, their public relations officer, who began working on the logistics of making this happen.
During the planning process, I received a call from Dana, who informed me that Jessie Griffin and Kristen Drexler had heard about the event and, without being asked, wanted to participate.
The support I received from South Georgia EMS was overwhelming.
Dustin Ward, who is an instructor in the EMS program and also a flight paramedic with AirLife 11, the life flight service that covers our area, provided the patient for the exercise and flew to the campus to take part in the events.
I contacted Bainbridge Memorial Hospital's ER Director, Danny Stephens, and asked if we could bring the patient to their ER. He agreed and discussed the exercise with the nurses and doctors.
Everyone went above and beyond to make this event something Blair would remember.
Filling the role of an EMT
I began planning Blair's graduation ceremony. It was supposed to be a small gathering in the EMS classroom, but I realized that there would not be enough room.
This started as a small friends and family gathering, but it turned into a multi-agency, community-wide event to celebrate what Blair means to the people of our area.
The day had arrived; a celebration of Blair's dream was going to happen.
I met Blair at the EMS station in Bainbridge and I introduced her to Jessie and Kristen. Jessie and Kristen began checking off the truck with Blair, they showed her every piece of equipment, how to use the radio, the lights and the siren.
They took Blair into the station and gave her a tour, introducing her to the EMTs and paramedics working that day. The look on Blair's face was priceless; she was having the time of her life.
Blair spent about an hour with Jessie and Kristen, meeting people and seeing what we do every day. Soon after, the time had come for Blair to get her call.
Decatur-Grady 911 had agreed to tone out a call. Their dispatchers made it sound as real as possible and, to my surprise, Blair could be heard on the radio en route. The dispatcher interacted with Blair, as if she was an employee going on a call. You could hear the excitement in Blair's voice as she talked on the radio; she was filling the role of a real-life EMT.
The ambulance arrived at BSC to a crowd of onlookers. Blair found her patient lying at the bottom of some stairs, unresponsive. Jessie and Kristen took the time to let Blair preform an assessment; they helped as Blair showed them how to hold C-spine and put a C-collar on the patient.
This was one of the few times that a prolonged scene time was a good thing.
Jessie, Kristen and Blair loaded the patient into the ambulance.
The patient was transported to Bainbridge Memorial Hospital; Blair "treated" the patient and even called in a radio report. The ER was ready to accept the patient.
On Blair's arrival at the hospital, there were nurses, a doctor, respiratory therapist, members of the radiology department and lab all waiting to treat this "critical" patient.
Blair had to give a verbal report and turn over care. The ER staff and the paramedics complimented Blair for effectively treating the patient. It was obvious that Blair's dream had come true, but we were not done.
Kristen and Jessie took the time to show Blair how to clean the ambulance and get it ready for the next call. Jessie and Kristen took Blair back to BSC.
Becoming an honorary EMT
Blair was met with EMS providers, family, friends and community members who wanted to witness Blair becoming an honorary EMT.
To Blair's surprise, we planned a graduation ceremony. I had the honor of presenting Blair with her Honorary EMT graduate plaque and certificate.
Randy Williams presented Blair with an Honorary EMT plaque from South Georgia EMS, along with a gift basket. AirLife 11 made Blair an honorary flight medic and presented her with a certificate and name plate.
The event concluded with refreshments and fellowship time; the other students in the EMT program made this possible. They presented Blair, who was all smiles, with her first stethoscope.
Airlife 11 flew their helicopter to Bainbridge for the event. After the ceremony, they took Blair out to the helicopter and gave her a tour, flight helmet and all.
This was not only an amazing day for Blair, but for all of us who were involved. It is not often that we get to change someone's life who is not sick or injured; on this day, we did.
Often times, we get caught up in ourselves, looking for reasons to say "no," or finding ways to not have time. But on this day, everyone involved found time to say "yes."
When the event was over, I began to think about what we had done. We did not just show a young lady with special needs what we do, we let her do it. Blair joined the family of EMS, and the family of EMS joined Blair.
At the end of ceremony, Blair took the EMT Oath:
Be it pledged as an Emergency Medical Technician, I will honor the physical and judicial laws of God and man. I will follow that regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of patients and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, nor shall I suggest any such counsel. Into whatever homes I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of only the sick and injured, never revealing what I see or hear in the lives of men unless required by law.
I shall also share my medical knowledge with those who may benefit from what I have learned. I will serve unselfishly and continuously in order to help make a better world for all mankind.
While I continue to keep this oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life, and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times. Should I trespass or violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot.
So help me God.
I will forever be changed by Blair. This young lady has touched the lives of many in our local community.
About the author
Charles Avery has been a field medic for 14 years. He began teaching at Bainbridge State College in Jan. 2013. He's currently the program director overseeing three EMT and Advanced EMT programs, averaging 40 students. He holds an AS degree in Paramedicine from Darton College and a BA degree in Liberal Arts from Georgia Southern University. In 2017, he was named the state runner-up for the Rick Perkins Teacher of the Year Award from the Technical College System of Georgia.