Awards given for Denver Health paramedics’ life-saving work

DENVER – Denver Health Paramedics held their first annual awards luncheon today. They handed out 12 awards for work saving lives and serving the community. They respond to over 112,000 calls every year, treating and transporting more than 75,000 patients a year.

The awards ceremony was hosted by the The Denver Health Foundation, with HealthOne as the presenting sponsor. They believe it is important to recognize the work that these men and women do every single day.

One of the awards went to a paramedic who actually saved his trainee back in February. Tom Ferguson was training Justin Lunsford. In between calls, they stopped for coffee. Justin said, “Out of nowhere, I felt my heart race. I thought maybe it`s an anxiety attack. I go inside to get my cup of coffee, it kept slipping though my grip, so I just grabbed it with my left hand.”

By the time he got back to the ambulance, Tom noticed something was really wrong. Tom said, “The whole side of his face was drooping down, speech was slurred, classic signs of someone having a stroke.” Justin said, “I was freaking out, I was so scared. I was thinking I had a stroke, this is the end of my career, I`m going to be weak on the right side, even worse.”

Tom called another ambulance and started caring for Justin. “He starts taking care of me, does a stroke assessment, the whole nine yards there and then off to Denver health emergent.” Tom said, “During that whole course, it’s easy to say I was calm, that my training took over and I went into auto pilot. Maybe it looked like that on the outside, but on the inside I was terrified for him.”

He was also worried about Justin's wife and their unborn baby. Justin said, “It seriously made it the best potential for me. Without him, Tom recognizing the symptoms, I wouldn`t have easily recovered to where I am today.”

After several days in the hospital and months of rehab, Justin has made a full recovery and is back on the job. He went on to complete his paramedic training. Justin said, “I got my patch!”

Both say this experience has given them a new perspective on how to handle future calls. Tom said, “Every day I come to work, there`s the satisfaction. it`s a privilege and honor we get to take care of people on their worst days. Whether it`s a procedure or just having a conversation, maybe we can make that terrible day not so bad.” Justin added, “I like taking care of patients and being the nice guy when they are having a bad day. I like to be that person.”

Justin says this Distinguished Service Cross award is long overdue, but well deserved. He said, “A lifesaver for sure.”

The other honorees included:

  • Paramedic Joy Stephens – Employee of the year
  • Paramedic Steve Colvin – Training officer of the year
  • Paramedic Yolanda “Yo” Amezcua – Paramedicine Award
  • Paramedics Hilary Cassaly and Ame Lozano – Community Service Award
  • Paramedic James Boyer – Community Service Award
  • Paramedic Steve Watson – Medal of Valor
  • Lieutenant Otis McKay – Medal of Honor
  • Paramedic Anthony “Cap” Unrein – Gerald S. Gordon Lifetime Acheivement Award
  • HSS Security Officer Dustin Kemerer and ED Technician Dee Johnson – Legion of Merit Award
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