GA EMT Saving Lives During COVID Thanks to High School Training Program

Alejandro Corredor
Alejandro Corredor (Photo/Muscogee County Schools)

Mark Rice

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.

(MCT)

Alejandro Corredor is the first participant in the two-year-old emergency medical technician program at Shaw High School to pass the national certification exam. He also is the first to be hired.

“We’re 18-year-old kids,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer, “but we’re doing big things.”

Big things such as saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even before the winter surge in coronavirus cases, Corredor said, the medics at EMS Care Ambulance in Columbus went on every call assuming the patient was COVID-19 positive — as a precaution. Now, he estimates 90% of his calls involve a patient infected with the virus.

“Lately, it’s been really bad,” said Corredor, who graduated from Shaw in May and was hired in August.

Compounding the problem, he said, sometimes the Columbus hospitals don’t have a bed available, so patients are diverted more than 100 miles away to a hospital in Atlanta.

Corredor recalled transporting a 22-year-old COVID-19 patient to Grady Memorial Hospital.

“She was devastated because she hadn’t seen her family,” he said.

Corredor reassured her during the ride. As he gave her oxygen while she struggled to breathe, he soothed her anxiety by changing the subject. He asked about her family and her goals.

“I was happy that I was able to listen to her and relieve some of that stress,” he said.

When they arrived at Grady, she held his hand and thanked him.

“It was an amazing moment,” he said.

Compassion

Taught by paramedic Shannon Weikle, the Shaw program was one of only three at a Georgia high school when it became a state-certified EMT training facility in 2019. And if Corredor is a representative example of the program’s quality, EMS Care operations manager Tanya Hardy would give it an A.

In her 28 years as a medic, Hardy said, Corredor already is in the top 10% of providers she has seen — despite being the youngest among the crew’s 45 EMTs.

“When people come out of school as an EMT basic, we expect a minimal competency,” she told the L-E. “He came out above that, like somebody with about a year’s worth of experience.”

The most significant difference, Hardy said, is that new EMTs too often hesitate.

“It’s a lack of confidence in their ability,” she said. “He never displayed that. He jumped in, was confident and did what needs to be done.”

Corredor credits Weikle for preparing him well.

“She did an outstanding job,” he said. “… Everything she taught us, I see it on a daily basis.”

In addition to the technical skills, Corredor is grateful Weikle emphasized the so-called soft skills of how to effectively relate to patients.

“You have to have compassion for what they’re going through,” he said.

Faith

Corredor often doesn’t know the result of the treatment he provides.

“That’s one thing about EMS,” he said. “Sometimes we take patients to the hospital and never see them again. That short time you have with them, that’s when you’ve got to make the most out of it.”

His faith helps him deal with the uncertainty.

“I’m a big believer of God,” he said, “so I just pray.”

Corredor and his fellow medics are tested weekly for COVID-19. The week he had a severe cough and chills was “something real scary,” he said, but his tests continued to be negative.

Working as an EMT amid the pandemic is worth the risk, Corredor said, because he loves making a positive difference in people’s lives.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “… I want to be there for the patients.”

Battling COVID-19 is personal now for Corredor. The memory of his grandfather in Colombia dying from COVID-19 motivates him as he treats patients in Columbus.

“I really understand where they’re coming from,” he said.

Support

Even in the half year he has been an EMT, Corredor said, the number of his patients who have died are too many to recall.

“It’s heartbreaking because you feel like you could have done more,” he said.

Sharing his feelings with his fellow medics lets him learn from their experience.

“You get that release,” he said. “You get it out of you. Then they give you tips. They give you advice.”

Georgia’s EMT shortage has been exacerbated by COVID-19, Hardy said. The 2019 average annual salary for EMTs and paramedics was $35,400, with a 6% job growth forecast the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

She estimated 20% of statewide EMT positions are open.

No wonder Hardy gushes about Corredor boosting the EMS Care staff.

“His personality and the way he acts is contagious,” she said. “… It’s improved our morale. It’s improved our patient care. It’s improved our overall appearance to the community. I mean, I just can’t say enough great things about him.”

And he wants to be a role model for the Shaw students.

“I feel like I’m making the path for them,” he said. “… I explained to them that it’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that when you complete it and when you get there, it’s going to be an amazing experience.”

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