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How my sister’s death created a family of first responders

I went on to become a paramedic to prevent other people from suffering the way my family did on one awful night

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Here is the first place winner to our EMS Week 2015 essay contest. This year’s theme was EMS STRONG, and we asked you to share stories of when a pediatric patient made you feel like a superhero. Check out the other winners here.

By Abe Boxx

In a roundabout kind of way, this is a very personal story involving the first patient I ever treated, a pediatric at the age of 14, who was my very own baby sister. Although this story doesn’t sound like your typical uplifting and “superhero” type of story, it holds the very reason I became a paramedic.

I will never forget the day my brother barged into the house out on the old farm, yelling “She won’t wake up” (referring to my sister). My other sister (now an ICU trained registered nurse) and I both ran to where she had suddenly collapsed. We both knew basic first aid at the time and desperately searched (in vain) to find a pulse or signs of life. She had collapsed due to an undiagnosed heart condition (idiopathic left ventricular hypertrophy it would later be discovered in the autopsy). When no pulse was found we began to resuscitate. CPR and mouth-to-mouth was done, but already the prognosis was bad. We placed her fragile body into the back of the minivan and continued the futile resus all the way to meet the ambulance.

I’ll never forget the two paramedics jumping out of that big ambulance, with the flashing lights, their uniforms perfectly immaculate, their demeanor professional and calm (though later, now being a paramedic myself, knowing that the emotions they would have underneath that calm exterior would be that of fear and apprehension). They moved swiftly and with purpose, placing the defibrillator onto their young patient. The IV line was hard but they managed to gain access and start pushing the life saving medications. The rhythm initially was asystole. They continued the resuscitation all the way to the local hospital. Following the ambulance in our own van gave me a chance for my body to rest, but my mind was still running that marathon.

Sadly, she was called at 21:30 hours that evening and the doctors broke the news in a quiet hospital room ...

Now, I know what you’re thinking. How is this a “superhero” story? How does this make anyone feel good about pediatric calls? No one survived? Where’s the happy ending?

The ending to this story was the pursuit of that little girl’s family (her brothers and sisters) to prevent other people suffering the way they all did on that fateful night.

One of her brothers became a firefighter, another a federal police officer, another an ICU nurse and finally, me ... a paramedic. Through this devastating call, my “first job,” I have been in prehospital emergency care for the past eight years. And if I have any say in it, will be in it for the rest of my life.

We don’t always save everyone, but we can help those left behind, and in a small way, we may influence them in ways that we could never imagine. So, thank you to the paramedics who showed me the path I am on. I am honored to be part of the EMS family.