Heroes give faith, especially in uncertain times


By Scott Robertson

This is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s the time of year when Healthcare Heroes nominations begin to arrive in our offices. Every year since 1994, our sister publication, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities, TN/VA, has honored those who go above and beyond in the field of healthcare in the region.

The nominations are as inspirational as anything you’ll hear in church. The stories of the nominees restore faith that while the healthcare system in America is undeniably broken, the people who provide the care are as dedicated, talented, and caring as ever, if not more so.

Over the years I have read nominations for janitors who made a habit of singing soft hymns to patients who are awake and worrying at all hours of the morning. I have read nominations for office staff who have provided clothes for homeless families when their children were brought in for care. I have read nominations for millionaires who have donated without ceasing and I have read nominations for children of tender years and little means who have raised money to help their fellow child patients.

Let me introduce you to some of the Healthcare Heroes from recent years.

First there’s the tale we told in 2013 about the holiday heroism of the Hawkins County Rescue Squad and the Hawkins County Memorial Hospital Emergency Department.

The patient’s name was David Hilliard. On New Years Day he was found lying in a remote, watery ravine, alive but unconscious. When EMS crews arrived, the landscape was so treacherous a tractor had to assist the ambulance in reaching him and getting out. Hilliard’s body temperature when EMS reached him was 72 degrees. Moments after being loaded into the ambulance, Hilliard went into cardiac arrest. The team tried CPR and medications. They tried to warm his body with heating pads, hot packs and intravenous fluids. The ride to Hawkins County Memorial lasted 15 minutes.

Once there, Hilliard’s condition continued to decline. Hospital staff defibrillated his heart. Then did so again. And again. And again. 15 times. All in all, Hilliard was in cardiac arrest 109 minutes before his heart began beating regularly. When his temperature rose to 84.9, he was transferred to Holston Valley, but his eyes were still glassy.

Three days later, Wayne Elam from EMS called Holston Valley for an update on Hilliard’s condition. He was put on hold. The next voice he heard was that of David Hilliard. Elam was stunned that the man who by rights should be dead was on the other end of the line. “No one,” Elam remembers, “knew what to say.” But because of two hours of sheer determination, they have another whole lifetime to figure it out.

But sometimes heroism can’t be accomplished in so short a timespan. Sometimes it takes months, or even years.

Dr. Lesli Taylor was nominated three years ago by a mother whose child’s life Taylor saved. The mother knew before her son was born that he had gastroschisis, but it was worse than a usual such case, and on the second day of the boy’s life, the family was told they should call any family members to the hospital because the NICU team was having trouble stabilizing him. The boy made it through the day, and that evening, Dr. Taylor told the family she had a plan to save him, but that it would take a long time.

In fact, it took ten months of NICU time. The mother says she was amazed at how much time Taylor devoted to the boy’s care. Taylor was there nights, weekends and holidays, in addition to completing all her other duties for other patients, a load which was not insubstantial.

With Dr. Taylor as his healthcare leader, along with all the medical and nursing staff at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, the boy eventually survived and exceeded expectations.

Of course one might expect to find determined doctors and EMTs among the ranks of Healthcare Heroes. But our honorees are not just medical professionals. Take Billy Conant for instance.

Billy has had several surgical procedures to remove cancers related to his use of tobacco. One result is that he became unable to speak. For several years, he worked with Nicotine Free Mountain Empire, going to local schools in Sullivan County where he addressed thousands of fifth and sixth grade students about the harmful effects of tobacco use.

Using a small whiteboard and dry erase markers to answer their questions, he witnessed to these students about how his tobacco use has affected his own life. Teachers refer to his presentations as being among the most powerful and affecting moments of the school year. For having the spirit to not only fight his own cancer, but to lessen the chances of our own children contracting the disease, Billy Conant was the deserving honoree of the Healthcare Heroes Community Service Award.

If you know someone whom you believe is a Healthcare Hero, email their story to me directly at srobertson@bjournal.com to make sure it enters the field of nominees. Deadline for nominations is the close of business May 30.


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