Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 2, 1974 · Page 87
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June 2, 1974

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 87

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, June 2, 1974
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Page 87
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When Every Second Counts By Martha Smith The scene: A n a r r o w , winding West Virginia country road, the car radio blaring out the latest Loretta Lynn song, young couple cuddling close as he drives along. Suddenly, from nowhere, a t r u c k looms. T h e h a p p y laughter turns to screams of terror. Ugly, torn wreckage of metal twisted into bizarre shapes and h u m a n bodies lying limp like rag dolls. Unlike rag dolls, these bodies bleed. They moan in pain. They mumble helpless prayers that someone will find them in time. Throughout rural West Virginia, when the nearest hospital may be 50 miles away, the certified paramedic often means the difference between life and death. He is there, with an equally trained partner, piloting a fully-equipped ambulance to the scene of accidents such as the one described above. He is there to administer life-saving emergency medical attention. He is there when every second counts. In the state's isolated, rural areas -- where it is often many miles to the nearest doctor, clinic or hospital -the trained paramedic prov- ides immediate care, helps the patient to stabilize his condition, and transports him to the nearest medical facility. The paramedic program was made possible in the state under Senate Bill 281. approved by the 1972 legislature. To q u a l i f y , an a p p l i cant must have a high school diploma. He must be recommended for training by a licensed doctor who has direct knowledge of his ability, and he must pass screening tests in several areas including emotional stability. Before paramedic training can even begin, the preliminary training to reach emergency medical technician (EMT) status first must be completed. In West Virginia, there are five major training centers for EMTs and paramedics. They are Charleston Area Medical Center, St. Josephs Hospital in Parkersburg. a state-operated training program at Huntington. the Appalachian Regional Hosp i t a l in Beckley and the Southern West Virginia Regional Health Council program operating out of Princeton in Mercer County. Since 13 of the first 14 paramedics licensed in the state came from the Southern West Virginia program (the 14th. a former employe, later joined the Princeton Rescue S q u a d ) , the true incidents in this story will be drawn from experiences of the paramedics working in that area. *· Southern West Virginia has a particular need for the paramedic. He is mobile and able to arrive quickly on the scene, despite major geographical barriers. Mountains are steep, towns are small and hospitals are far between in the southern part of the state. To attain paramedic status, trainees work hard. They put in 400 hours of specialized training, evenly divided between instruction under doctors and nurses, and clinic training. Clinic training is taken in intensive and coronary care units, and emergency rooms. Heart monitoring, administration of intravenous fluids and other vital procedures are part of the specialized skills a paramedic must have. According to law, the paramedic may. administer drugs and IVs while in voice contact with a doctor. So all ambulances in the Southern West Virginia Regional Hospital Council program are e q u i p p e d w i t h r a d i o s through which the paramedics communicate with a central headquarters in the nine-county area. · Emergency treatment is given until the patient can be transported to the nearest hospital. In the case of Mrs. Brenda Sue Hightower, care was delivered on the way, and the delivery was done with care. Paramedic Jerry Hagy piol- oted the OH-9 ambulance w h i l e E M T N a t h a n i e l "Butch" Osborne took over for the stork in the delivery of a 7-pound. 15 ounce baby boy. While the ambulance hurried along toward the Mercer Health Center, the baby --nicknamed "Butch" after his substitute stork -- made his debut near Pinnacle Rock on the trip from the Hightower home at Jenkinjones. The action transpired last Dec. 15 and Mrs. Hightower, the mother of f o u r others, said she never dreamed the baby would be born in an ambulance. Osborne, however, knew better; He said: "We were late in arriving at the Hightower home because we had received some wrong instructions on exactly where it was located. When we examined Mrs. Hightower. I had an idea we weren't going to make the hospital, and I was scared for a moment. . . ." Dr. Keith T. Edwards, an obstetrician, had trained the men well, though, and the delivery came off without a hitch -- Osborne remained calm and e f f i c i e n t even when he discovered the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck. He straightened it out and the baby was fine. It was another case of making every second count. Mrs. Hightower praised the men's work, saying: "They were nice and they certainly knew what they were doing and how to do it. Mr. Hagy was trying to get me to the hospital as fast as possible and still be as careful as he c o u l d on those roads and Mr. Osborne was great." It was the first ambulance birth for the program, although one baby was delivered in a home when paramedics arrived to transport the mother and found the birth was already in progress. Paramedic Howard Kessinger of Princeton remembered several instances in Paramedics Dave Harman, foreground, and Sylvester Grotty eare for accident victim in ambulance enroute to hospital. which he and his partner provided lifesaving service. "We had one man suffering f r o m a t h i r d d e g r e e heart block." he recalled. "He had a r u n a w a y pacemaker and we were taking h i m t o D u k e U n i v e r s i t y where they were going to implant a new pacemaker. We started a continuous IV at Princeton Community Hospital and had to keep close watch on him all the way to Duke University. "The fellow came into the hospital the other day and was the picture of health. He came in to look us up and to tell us he was working. He'd just finished p u t t i n g up a fence." Another case Kessinger recalled involved a man critically injured in a car wreck. The paramedic said: "The man's jugular vein w a s c u t f r o m i n s i d e t h e throat. We applied direct pressure to stop the bleeding. He had compound leg fractures, multiple skull lacerations and possible back injuries. We picked him up. cleared the airway to aid breathing, splinted the leg and put the man on an orthopedic board. He was stabilized by the time we got to the hospital." Mercer County paramedics have had particular success helping persons in diabetic comas and also have delivered a number of babies in the parents' homes before transporting the mothers and infants to the hospital. Careful use of special respirators to transport patients to Charlottesville, Va. for treatment also was recalled by Kessinger. »· His most vivid memory, however, was of a car wreck on the West Virginia Turnpike near the Glass House restaurant. He explained: The daughter was killed instantly. The mother later died in the hospital, but we kept the little boy alive. He was in a coma and had some brain damage. We got him breathing again after cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He recovered fully, had no severe reaction and the brain damage cleared up. "The little boy, who was between six and eight-years- old came back to see all of us a short time ago. His father is in the Air Force and he wanted his son to come back and visit us. He wanted us to know the boy was doing all right. "Things like that make us feel pretty good. We know the work we do is vital and the people depend on us." A runaway pacemaker. A boy in coma, with breathing stopped. A baby who won't wait for the doctor's assistance in a hospital birth. A lacerated jugular vein. In these instances, the paramedic was on the scene, making every second count. 'State Magazine.Mn.2. '.1974 ·, CHARLESTON, tt.-VA, 3m

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