Newsman speaks to paramedics completing life-saving program

A Dallas Morning News columnist whose son's life was saved by Dallas paramedics told a new batch of emergency medical personnel during their graduation ceremony to view their job as one about life and joy.

"'You are not in the blood-and-guts business, you are in the life-and-happiness business," Steve Blow said.

"There'll be times when I'm sure you'll face discouragement, when you'll think: 'Oh, my goodness, what in the world have I gotten myself into.' But just often enough I hope you get feedback like I'm giving you here."

Mr. Blow was the guest speaker at an April 20 graduation ceremony for 28 paramedics trained in a joint program by UT Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School and El Centro College of the Dallas County Community College District. Since the UT Southwestern/El Centro program's inception in 1972, it has turned out 3,680 graduates trained to save lives.

"'We are in the problem-and-progress business," the columnist said, comparing the job of journalists to that of emergency medical personnel because both arrive on the scene after the fact and "little by little, step by step, we make progress."

Paramedics are trained to perform advanced life support procedures at emergencies with invasive skills such as I.V.s, endotracheal intubation, drug administration and defibrillation and converting abnormal cardiac rhythms or patterns to normal ones.

Mr. Blow, who himself has had heart trouble, noted that he has "'a very personal perspective" on the job paramedics perform. His son, Corey, suffered sudden cardiac death two days before Thanksgiving 2004, which doctors later diagnosed as caused by Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an abnormality in the electrical system of the heart. Corey's life was saved by a co-worker who immediately began CPR and by the quick response time of downtown Dallas paramedics who arrived with an automatic external defibrillator and shocked Corey's heart back into beating.

"I consider it a miracle that paramedics who knew just what to do were on the scene in just a matter of minutes and had their defibrillator there to get his heart started," Mr. Blow told the audience.

The newspaper columnist wrote about arriving on the scene after his son had collapsed and seeing volunteers, then paramedics, work on his son, and he used a follow-up story to advocate CPR training for the general public.

"Long before my own personal experience with the UT Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School's paramedic training program, it had earned a world-class reputation," said Dr. Paul Pepe, chief of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern and medical director for Dallas Fire-Rescue. "Now that I have gotten to see the training in action and the end result - these outstanding, highly skilled paramedics - I understand why it carries a reputation as one of the best in the world."

The program is one of only two nationally accredited training programs in the area. And the rate of Dallas paramedics who pass the national certification program on their first try is higher than the national and state averages. The Dallas rate stands at 78 percent, compared with 64 percent and 52 percent in the nation and state, respectively. The overall pass rate on the national exam is 98 percent for Dallas paramedics.

Class valedictorian Matt Lunsford said of his training: "Although it is long and difficult, it has prepared us for our career." Paramedics train in the program for approximately a year and five weeks.

Mr. Lunsford described Blow's talk as "uplifting and positive." He said, "Anytime you can hear a positive example regarding the work we do, it makes all the hard work and long hours worthwhile."