GEMS honors volunteers, staff for their service

Flanked by sisters Missy Journick and Laurie Wigglesworth, GEMS volunteer Andres Moreira, was the recepient of three awards during the night, including the Susan Ferraro Memorial Scholarship, named in memory of Ms. Journick and Ms. Wigglesworth’s mother, a dedicated GEMS volunteer. —John Ferris Robben

Flanked by sisters Missy Journick and Laurie Wigglesworth, GEMS volunteer Andres Moreira, was the recepient of three awards during the night, including the Susan Ferraro Memorial Scholarship, named in memory of Ms. Journick and Ms. Wigglesworth’s mother, a dedicated GEMS volunteer. —John Ferris Robben

Town residents depend on Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) for life-saving help when needed, and last week those efforts were recognized at an awards ceremony.

GEMS, which is in its 27th year in town as a nonprofit getting both town and private money for its operation, answered more than 6,000 emergency calls to 911 last year, and more than 60% of them required advanced life support. But the impact of GEMS is felt not just in its quick response or its cardiac save rate of 40%, which is far above the national average. It’s also in the life safety training given to its members as well as to town residents. As part of the awards ceremony, Art Romano, GEMS deputy director, described three 911 calls that were declared to be highlights of the year.

These calls included a crisis at Hamilton Avenue School, where, during a public meeting about the Common Core curriculum, a woman suddenly lost consciousness and slumped over. She went into cardiac arrest, and as GEMS was called, seconds were of the utmost importance. Because a group of parents there knew CPR and made use of the automated external defribillator (AED) that GEMS has put in every public building in town, the woman’s pulse was restored. That allowed her to be conscious and beginning to speak as GEMS arrived a mere four minutes later. A tragedy was averted that night and the woman is fine today.

“This illustrates why we are a Heart Safe Community,” Mr. Romano said. “We have not only the AEDs deployed throughout town, we have the people who are willing and able to use it and the first responders there to back them up.”

Another memorable call came when a town employee wasn’t feeling well and went home early. After he went to lie down, the man’s wife found him unconscious and unresponsive, and GEMS and Greenwich police responded. Mr. Romano said this was far from a simple call, though, and it involved a prolonged resuscitation effort including a CPR machine, intravenous lines, an array of medications, and several electrical shocks, only the last of which succeeded in getting the man out of cardiac arrest. Hypothermia even had to be induced to lower the man’s body temperature to preserve brain function, and getting him out of the home through the winding stairs of his upper floor bedroom to the hospital also proved difficult.

But thanks to the response and training of the GEMS crew, Mr. Romano said, that man is fine today and neurologically intact. Mr. Romano described another success story — a call from a woman experiencing shoulder pain. The crew that responded was trained to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack in a woman, which present differently than in men, and identified what was happening. Their quick response proved to be a life-saver, because while in the driveway of the house, the woman became unconscious. Treatment and medication stabilized her and she was taken to the hospital, where her heart attack was reversed, saving her life.

The woman attended the ceremony and personally thanked members of the response crew.

“You can see how each piece of the puzzle works in those scenarios,” Mr. Romano said. “It takes good training, being sharp clinicians, demonstrating good behavior patterns, and pre-planning and good response to a stressful situation.”

Everyone on the crews that responded to the events were honored at the awards ceremony, as were several others from GEMS.

“This is a special event for everyone connected with GEMS,” John Raben, chairman of the GEMS board of directors, said at the event. “It reminds all of us why we feel so passionately about GEMS. This is a celebration for you, the operational staff, to share your accomplishments with your family and friends. On behalf of the board, I want to say how proud we are of you and how grateful we are for your commitment and how much we appreciate the superior medical services you provide Greenwich every day.”

The Susan A. Ferraro Memorial Scholarship was given to Andres Moreira, who has been a longtime volunteer with GEMS after starting out as a GEMS Explorer. He was also honored with the Mary Dewart Memorial Scholarship Award to help his studies in the medical field. Mr. Moreira just received his master’s degree from George Washington University and will soon begin an internship at a hospital in Delaware as an administrator.

Genesis Vega was also a two-time winner, getting the Explorer Post 911 award for outstanding service and the John Schmeltzer Scholarship. Additionally, Ryan Keller was named Explorer of the Year, Christopher Tremblay won the Bertolotti Scholarship, Janice Del Vecchio was honored for Outstanding Service Training, Karin Brion won the Medical Directors Award, Mary Grace Hicks received the Barbara Duval Volunteer of the Year Award, and Linette Usowski was named the Career Person of the Year.

GEMS Executive Director Charlee Tufts thanked the staff for “their dedication to excellent patient care, their community outreach and their genuine caring for their fellow man.” She also had specific praise for her deputy directors, director of operations, operations managers, and field supervisors, calling them “unsung heroes.”

“Thanks to the efforts of our staff and board, we have a reputation for excellence,” Ms. Tufts said. “GEMS has gained statewide recognition for our demanding professional standards, our rapid response, our cutting-edge technology, state-of-the-art equipment and vehicles and excellent training center.”

She later added, “Through all conditions and at any hour, 911 patients are assured the best possible care will be at their side when our ambulance arrives. Our professionals are highly educated and skilled in the delivery of sophisticated medical care. They are constantly cited for their efficiency, their compassion, and understanding of the patient and their family’s needs. At GEMS we expect the best, and our unique blend of volunteers and career professionals constantly meet and exceed our standards.”

The awards were handed out May 9 before a room full of GEMS supporters, including First Selectman Peter Tesei who congratulated everyone on the honors and thanked the organization for its service.

“The record speaks for itself,” Mr. Tesei said. “When you look at an organization like GEMS and look at the cardiac save rate, which is the best in the country, you have to have enormous pride in what you do for the community in the lives you’ve touched and the lives you’ve saved. … You are second to none. I’m proud of GEMS. I’ve been proud of GEMS since before I was first selectman. I take pride in knowing we have the best emergency medical service in the country.”


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