Renee Sullivan had just turned her shopping cart into the dairy aisle when she heard a commotion just ahead. Several customers were hovering over an elderly woman, who was lying prostrate on a wooden skid. Sullivan recognized immediately the signs of a seizure.
In high school, Sullivan had a friend who was susceptible to seizures. Not only was Sullivan familiar with the signs, but she also knew the prescribed course of action.
“I rolled her onto her side, cleared her airway and grabbed a bag of frozen peas from my shopping cart and applied it to the bump on her head.”
Minutes later, ambulance personnel arrived on the scene and took over the patient’s care. “I told them what had happened and what I had done. This apparently impressed the ambulance personnel. They thought I was involved in emergency medical services. When they found out I had no such experience, they suggested I look into a career in emergency medical services.”
Three months later, the 45-year-old Sullivan, who had spent most of her career in the corporate world, was now enrolled in an emergency medical technician class.
“I had no medical background,” she recalled. “I didn’t know the difference between an emergency medical technician and a paramedic. I felt out of place and I was petrified.”
When Sullivan informed her husband, Daniel, and sons, Daniel Jr. and William, “they couldn’t fathom why I got into this career. William, who was 8 at the time, was worried. He thought I’d be running into burning houses.”
He was reassured and “greatly relieved” when she told him she wouldn’t be doing that, she related.
“Instead,” she said, “I’ll be taking care of the sick and injured and hopefully making them well again.”
In 2007, Sullivan joined Trappe Fire Co. No. 1 and Ambulance as an EMT.
“Before running on an ambulance,” she said, “you have to be thoroughly skilled in what you are doing, in treating patients, administering drugs and using the medical equipment properly. For this, it’s invaluable to have a good teacher or preceptor. Fortunately, I had one: Michael Groff.”
Groff, a paramedic, is deputy chief of Trappe Ambulance and is also chief of Bally Community Ambulance, Berks County.
“He made me feel comfortable, put me at ease and was patient with me while I attempted to grasp this new knowledge.”
The admiration was mutual.
“It was a pleasure to have Renee as a paramedic student,” said Groff. “She was eager to learn. She picked up everything quickly. What I found particularly endearing is that she came from a corporate field. Emergency medical service doesn’t pay that well. You have to have a really good heart to want to do this.”