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Unexpected Reunion Highlights Opening of Expo

EMS World Expo officially began Wednesday in New Orleans with the pomp and pageantry of opening ceremonies, three inspirational keynote tales, and then an unexpected fourth that poignantly underscored the importance of what EMS does.

AMR Chief Medical Officer Ed Racht, MD, again hosted a talk show-style kickoff, this year featuring three prominent guests who shared their experiences overcoming adversity: David Miramontes, MD, medical director for the San Antonio Fire Department, suffered cancer in his throat that led to a tracheostomy less than a year ago, a tube still in place, and impacted speech, but remained focused on teaching and sharing throughout. New FDNY EMS Chief Lillian Bonsignore grew up with a single mom and humble circumstances in the Bronx but was guided by key mentors onto a path that’s led her to historic firsts as FDNY’s first female and first LGBT chief. And San Diego paramedic Ben Vernon, famously stabbed by a deranged bystander in a much-watched video, recounted his journey through post-traumatic stress injury and efforts to erase the stigma that can prevent emergency providers from seeking help after damaging events.

But the fourth, unexpected twist came later in the day courtesy of someone not even in EMS: the man who played the national anthem.

In 2017 New Orleans trombonist Maurice Trosclair suffered a cardiac arrest in an elevator. After knocking him down, though, fate changed sides: While a fellow passenger ran for an AED, two nurses fortuitously nearby began CPR. EMS arrived, and Trosclair was ultimately saved, fully intact. He’s since come to be known as Miracle Meaux and said how happy he was to be able to perform for first responders like those who’d helped him.

In fact one had. Later in the day Trosclair contacted EMS World:

As I was leaving the theater someone stopped me. He told me that HE was there helping with my resuscitation! It was so incredible to finally meet one of the EMTs who were on that call. It was so heavy, so emotional, and so amazing!  We both were moved by meeting each other for the first time. He said as an EMT, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a survivor that they saved. And today…you gave both of us a moment we will never forget and now a future relationship we will carry forward! He has offered to arrange a reunion with all the EMTs that were on that call!  

More on that as it develops. Meanwhile, the opening ceremonies also featured local NOLA EMS legend and longtime EMS World friend Ken Bouvier, who shared some memories and wisdom from his 44-year career, and honored the winners of the 2019 National EMS Awards of Excellence:

  • 2019 Dick Ferneau Career EMS Service of the Year, sponsored by Ferno: San Antonio Fire Department EMS;
  • 2019 Volunteer EMS Service of the Year, sponsored by ZOLL: Princess Anne Courthouse Volunteer Rescue Squad, Virginia Beach, Va.;
  • 2019 NAEMT/Nasco Paramedic of the Year, sponsored by Nasco: Debby Carscallen, Moscow (Idaho) Volunteer Fire Department;
  • 2019 NAEMT/Braun Industries EMT of the Year, sponsored by Braun Industries: Freya Whalen, CoxHealth, Springfield, Mo.;
  • 2019 NAEMT/Jones & Bartlett Learning EMS Educator of the Year, sponsored by Jones & Bartlett Learning: Melissa Stuive, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, Tex.;
  • 2019 NAEMT/Bound Tree EMS Medical Director of the Year, sponsored by Bound Tree Medical: Michael Dailey, Albany, N.Y.;
  • 2019 NAEMT/North American Rescue Military Medic of the Year, sponsored by North American Rescue: HM1 Kenneth Russell, Acting Medical Chief, Company M, 3rd Marine Raider Battalion.

New Orleans EMS Director Emily Nichols, MD, EMS Chief Bill Salmeron, and Deputy Medical Director Megan Marino, MD, welcomed attendees to the city, while other local officials who had planned to attend were diverted by the recent collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel project at the edge of the French Quarter. The Prehospital Care Research Forum’s Dave Page praised the importance of EMS research and noted this year’s 52 original research abstract posters displayed at the show. 

For the first time EMS World Expo was the setting for the Nicholas Rosecrans Award. Named for a California toddler who drowned in 1996, the award was conceived by California medic Paul Maxwell to honor efforts at childhood injury prevention. This year’s winner was Colerain Township Fire and EMS from Ohio.

Racht then welcomed his guests. Miramontes described how he initially thought he had a cold but then began coughing up blood. Last Christmas Eve they discovered a tumor between his vocal cords and cricoid cartilage. He needed a tracheostomy but even from the ED began posting and messaging to colleagues and friends. Twenty EM residents observed his surgery. When he awoke in the ICU, he couldn’t talk. Ultimately surgeons using a new procedure and tissue from elsewhere in the body rebuilt his airway; he was only the fifth person in the world to undergo the procedure. “Cancer can happen to anyone,” he warned, “even dorky doctors.” Data shows firefighters are at higher risk.

Bonsignore joked that she got the most attention for being a woman and gay—the two things she’d worked the least at. But her rise was an object lesson in doing what you’re told you can’t. One Halloween as a child, she said, she’d gone as Superman, only to be told by her grandmother, “Girls can’t be Superman!” The same was thought about women in EMS and the fire service. Key mentors thought otherwise, and one, a physician, financed Bonsignore’s way through EMT school. She was hired by the city for what she intended as a summer job, and it’s now lasted 29 years and taken her to her department’s loftiest ranks. “A little belief in somebody can change their world forever,” she said. “They told me I could be Superman, and it was true.”

You may have seen the body-cam video of Vernon’s 2015 stabbing. The first thrust went into his left flank. The second went into his chest, breaking a rib and puncturing a lung. His partner, Alex Wallbrett, jumped in to help and was also stabbed. Both survived, but then the violent, terrifying nightmares started. That the attack was on video was beneficial, Vernon noted, as it helped justify his seeking help without recrimination from old-school “suck it up” colleagues. He got it from a police psychologist and ex-cop, Mark Foreman, PsyD, and now they’re writing a book together. Vernon’s goal is to share mental health training tools within the emergency services and work to improve its often-regressive culture surrounding traumatic stress and mental health.

“There are no demons until it’s us,” Racht observed wryly. “It is strength to seek help.”

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