Medical students save lives in Grand Rapids
Khai Le and Isaac Billings are just like any other Grand Valley State University students.
Le is 22 years old, has a bachelor’s degree from GVSU and will be returning in May to continue his education in the medical field. Billings is a 23-year-old pre-med student who is graduating in April and will be continuing on to graduate school. Unlike other students though, Le and Billings are also both actively employed as paramedics in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Le earned his bachelor’s in Health Science at GVSU. After that, he realized that GVSU offered a nursing program so he applied and will be starting that in May.
“When I was going for my PA, I kind of wanted to get some experience with medicine and I found this whole Paramedic, EMT program downtown and I did that while going to school,” Le said. “I did that for two years and got amazing experience but I didn’t think I was going to be a paramedic at all. I just wanted to get my foot in the door.”
During his time serving the Grand Rapids community, Le has dealt with a variety of different situations. One of his most memorable took place just a few weeks ago when he and his partner received a page sending them to The Woods to treat GVSU student Kelsey DeWindt.
DeWindt is from the Grand Rapids area and has been attending GVSU for the past three years. While she was simply hoping to hang out with friends at The Woods, in an instant, DeWindt’s life changed forever.
After a day like any other day that included working out, attending school, and going to work, DeWindt decided to spend time with friends to celebrate a birthday.
Once inside The Woods, everything went wrong.
“There actually wasn’t anything, I don’t even remember that day at all,” DeWindt said. “And I don’t remember the next few days when I was in the ICU. This happened on a Thursday I believe and I don’t start remembering anything until Saturday or Sunday.”
After receiving the page, they were told that someone had fallen at the bar and may have suffered a seizure.
“I’m sure a lot of paramedics would think this, okay, a 21-year-old, fall, at The Woods, at the bar so I’m thinking she probably had way too many drinks and that she just fell or something like that,” Le said.
Within five minutes of arriving at the scene, Le and his partner both realized they were very wrong.
“I looked at her and I could just feel that something wasn’t right,” Le said. “I didn’t know it at first but I went down to check her radial pulse, the pulse on the arm, and then I looked at her. She just didn’t look alive. She wasn’t responding or anything.”
After both Le and his partner checked for a pulse, they came to the scary conclusion that her heart was not beating. DeWindt was in cardiac arrest.
Le ran out to the ambulance to grab all the proper equipment and returned to see his partner giving DeWindt CPR.
“At that point, every second counted, everything we did, every second counted,” he said. “Statistically, it is five to seven minutes until permanent brain damage really starts kicking in.”
In order to restart DeWindt’s heart, the paramedics shocked her two times, administered one shot of medication, and provided CPR.
“After the second shock, with our monitor, she went back into her normal rhythm,” Le said. “Obviously she wasn’t breathing quite yet and she was obviously out of it but her heart was beating again.”
Once to the hospital, doctors were able to stabilize DeWindt and help her make a nearly full recovery.
“The doctors are still trying to figure out why it happened and the two main things now is they think I may have something wrong with my kidneys because my electrolyte balances were off,” DeWindt said. “Otherwise what they are looking for is what is called Long QT syndrome.”
Today, DeWindt is nearly fully recovered from the procedure that placed an Internal Cardiac Defibrillator in her heart, and she said she has the help of the paramedics and CPR that saved her life.
“The responsiveness of the EMTs, and the firefighters and everything saved my life,” DeWindt said. “Because of how important it is, I actually want to become certified in it.”Le and DeWindt wanted to stress the importance of learning CPR moving forward because with simple training, even civilians can help save a life.
“It was a huge call and it was a call I will never forget,” Le said. “It’s nice because I have a picture of her and my partner, and I framed up and it’s really nice.”
For Billings, the idea to become a paramedic came as a way to gain experience in the field he loved.
“I want to be a physician, specifically I’m looking to get dual boarded as a general family practitioner and as an emergency room doctor,” Billings said. “I would like to serve in a rural, medically underserved region so that is the goal.”
Having worked as a paramedic for about two years, Billings has seen the positives and the negatives that come with the territory.
“The most challenging aspect is dealing with the politics that come into play with medicine,” he said. “Our goal is to take care of our patients. That is our number one goal. We do what is best for the patient. Within that, as a paramedic, when you roll up to a scene of an accident or a complicated medication scenario like congested heart failure, you have protocols that are given to you and these protocols are supposed to guide your decisions and you are supposed to stick with them.
Often times, as paramedics, what is best for the patient doesn’t fall in line with those protocols and sometimes it doesn’t call in your company policy as well … so you are having to break protocols to do what is best for your patient and sometimes that can be very difficult.”
Although there are rough days in the paramedic field, to Billings, the positives he has experienced have made it all worth it.
“The most rewarding aspect would have to be those days when you walk away from the hospital after dropping off a patient knowing that what you did actually saved somebody’s life,” Billings said. “Even on the other side, that is hands down the most rewarding part. It’s amazing.”
Not only does Billings provide life saving-services, he also serves as a pillar of support for his patients and their families.
“If we can get them (the patients) to be emotionally secure with where they are at, and begin to get some hope about the situation and get rid of the panic, to calm down and relax a little bit, that’s huge,” Billings said. “…So much in medicine we are finding out is mental so how you think and feel about a situation can change it drastically with how it turns out.”
Students who are interested in learning CPR can contact the GVSU Campus Wellness Center at 616-331-3659 or the American Red Cross at 616-456-8661.
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