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Teenager has 'singular focus:' Care of the sick and injured

Patrick Jett became certified as an EMT and spent as much time as he could on calls or in the classroom


By Cathy Dyson
The Free Lance-Star via AP

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. — Patrick Jett had been waiting most of his young life for the moment he could climb into the front of an ambulance and respond to whatever emergency awaited.

For two years, he'd been running calls with the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad, responding to vehicle accidents or drug overdoses, general illnesses or diabetic reactions. Because he was underage, he sat in the back and followed directions from an adult.

Jett was determined to change that. He took all the mandatory courses and got the necessary certifications to be the attendant in charge — the one who would call the shots — the moment he was old enough to do so.

"He knew what he had to do, and he put in the dedication and effort to make it happen," Kimberly Madison, the organization's rescue chief said in the days before Jett's 18th birthday. "I have no qualms or reservations about him being released. He's totally ready to be out on his own."

Jett is the only child of registered nurses Allen and Kathryn Jett of Spotsylvania County. Their combined DNA solidified his interest in all things related to the care of the sick or injured.

Even before he turned 1, Jett was fascinated by sirens. His father was a volunteer with Fredericksburg Rescue Squad, and Jett would "wave to Dada" whenever an ambulance passed — even if his dad was right beside him.

His first party was at the squad building and included a fire-truck cake, which he promptly destroyed.

A photo of him at age 2 shows the towheaded boy with a stethoscope around his neck, poised to listen to his father's heartbeat.

Jett had little interest in the G.I. Joes or Matchbox cars his father tried to play with him, or in video games as a teenager.

But he did have a favorite stuffed bear named Mr. Bo. As a boy, Jett would put an oxygen mask over Mr. Bo's nose and try to give it the same kind of breathing treatment he got for asthma.

"He was born like a 32-year-old man," his dad said.

Jett was about 11 when a nearby greenhouse blew up — and exploded his interest in emergency services. He felt the house shake and saw the plume of smoke from his front door.

Then he heard the sound of help on the way.

"Within two or three minutes, there was a whole fleet of fire trucks on the scene," Jett said. "They turned chaos into something manageable."

So many resources, Jett thought, all activated in so little time.

"I want to be there," he told himself.

At 14, he was old enough to volunteer for non-medical duties at Spotsylvania Medical Regional Center, so he joined his dad on 12-hour Sunday shifts. He changed the sheets on hospital beds and answered phones and call bells.

At 15, he piloted a floating program so trained volunteers could work throughout the hospital.

By 16, he had put in almost 1,000 hours.

During slow times, doctors in the Intensive Care Unit showed him patterns on electrocardiograms and how to interpret different values. They explained the contractions of the atrium, the correlation of the ventricles to what he saw on the printouts.

"I learned a lot of great things from a lot of great people," Jett said.

At 16, Jett volunteered at Chancellor Volunteer Fire Department with Kevin Dillard, who had run calls with his father in Fredericksburg. The teenager also signed up for paid shifts as an assistant field technician at LifeCare Medical Transports in Stafford County, where Dillard is president and CEO.

Jett was the third person on the ambulance and helped get patients to medical appointments or other non-emergency meetings. Dillard was impressed with the young man's caring attitude and the "phenomenal job" he did.

"It's really refreshing to see that in somebody his age," Dillard said.

Jett came to realize the fire service wasn't for him, so he switched to the Spotsylvania Volunteer Rescue Squad. He became certified as an emergency medical technician and spent as much time as he could on calls or in the classroom.

He took all the mandatory courses in hazardous materials, incident command and emergency situations to qualify as the person in charge of the ambulance.

"I've never met a kid with such a singular focus," his father said.

Jett even arranged his school schedule around his medical commitments.

The teen attended classes at Riverbend High School during his freshman and sophomore years, then enrolled in the Virginia Department of Education's Virtual Virginia program.

The full-time — and free — program offers students in public, private or home-school classes the chance to earn a standard or advanced studies diploma through web-based courses.

Jett graduated from high school in August, a year ahead of time. He's got a full-time course load at Germanna Community College while working at LifeCare and volunteering with the rescue squad.

Jett hopes to be accepted in its nursing program next fall and would like to be a nurse practitioner. He'd love to work with patients with acute needs, preferably in an intensive care unit.

"So many people graduate from high school, go to college and have no idea what they want to do with their lives," Dillard said. "With Patrick, he set his mind to it, and boy, has he stuck to it.

On Nov. 8, his 18th birthday, Jett worked the 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. volunteer shift at Spotsylvania's Company 4 station off Falcon Road near Fredericksburg Academy.

His "jump bag" at the rescue squad was packed with all the necessary gear, and he checked and rechecked it. He told himself that he wouldn't be alone, that a more experienced paramedic could be dispatched as needed.

"There's calls you never want to get, and there's calls you run all the time," he said, trying not to look at the clock too often. "You're just a little intimidated, but you keep a level head and do what you need to do."

Heather Wilson, the driver, was the only volunteer on the squad with him. She also works with him at LifeCare and knew all about his countdown to adulthood.

"Trust me, I've heard about it every day," she said.

Then, on a serious note, she added that Patrick is "pretty awesome."

"With patients, he's very understanding and empathetic," she said. "He definitely knows his stuff."

The first two hours of the shift were uncharacteristically quiet. Jett suggested the crew go to McDonald's, where he got a soda since he'd had a birthday dinner earlier in the day.

At 8:06 p.m., the tones rang out for Company 4, and Jett announced: "That's us."

He sprang from the break room, ready for his first call as an adult.

He was nervous as the squad responded to an assisted living facility, where a resident had an "altered mental status." He started asking the patient questions, but wasn't making much progress in getting answers, so a paramedic took over.

Jett listened and wrote down, on his own hand, the man's vital signs.

When the resident finally agreed to go to the hospital, Jett loaded him up and sat in the back with him. He listened to the patient rant for a while, nodded and said "yeah" in all the right places, and relayed the necessary medical information to the hospital.

Once there, Jett handed the patient over to the on-duty nurse, answered her questions and filled out the paperwork.

Before he headed back to the station, a security guard came over to say hello. David Holmes had seen Jett around the Spotsylvania hospital for about four years and often watched, from afar, as squads rolled up to the emergency room.

Holmes saw the familiar face, the young man he describes as "top flight," in the back of the ambulance. He was excited to hear that Jett had earned his place in the front seat.

"He was always wanting to learn more so he could help people," Holmes said. "I guess he got what he wanted."

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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