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Bill Kirby Jr.: A ‘humbling’ moment for a county paramedic

Cardiac patients, paramedics and others come together at Heartfelt Banquet


Jack Thompson is a certified paramedic, and he still can see the middle-aged woman at the recent Heartfelt Banquet standing there with her family.

He felt the emotion of that evening at Manna Church.

“You get to take a picture with them and their family,” he says. “You kind of don’t know what to say. She couldn’t express any more how grateful she was.”

Thompson remembers, too, that 911 call in October to the woman’s Eastover home. “It was around 10 o’clock” in the evening, Thompson says.

The woman was in peril, and her heart was failing.

“She had a massive heart attack that led to cardiac arrest,” Thompson, 26, says as the Cumberland County EMS crew of Lt. Dashawn Bassett, Gabriella Santiago and Thompson arrived, as well as the Eastover Fire Department. “Her father was the one who had started CPR on her.”

Now, Bassett, Santiago and Thompson were there.

“She had no pulse,” Thompson says.

Life is precious.

A heart attack, Thompson says, is a lack of oxygen.

“Cardiac arrest,” he says, “is when someone is clinically dead.”

The Cape Fear Valley Health ambulance, with a woman’s life in the balance, was on its way to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where a medical triage team awaited.

“The EMTs and paramedics of Cumberland County EMS train and work hard to provide exceptional care to all our patients,” says David Grovdahl, director for Cumberland County EMS. “Cardiac and stroke are time-sensitive emergencies that EMS can and have significantly improved outcomes as part of the continuum of care from whenever a patient is through the Cape Fear emergency department and to our cardiology and stroke services. The fantastic patient outcomes celebrated at the Heartfelt Banquet are examples of the great team effort of our paramedics and EMTs and our teammates at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.”

Life of a paramedic

Such are the stories of paramedics and emergency medical technicians in this community.

The shifts can be long.

The job can be demanding.

But the rewards are fulfilling, Thompson says, of knowing you were there to save a life or just being there when a 911 call comes.

“Some of the most rewarding calls are not always serious,” Thompson says. “They call and we can come out and take them to the hospital if they want to go. Even if they don’t go to the hospital, it’s just them knowing you care.”

He has seen his share of a mother’s fear with a child with a fever, and a paramedic can be there to access the child and assure an anxious parent her child will be fine. A paramedic can be there for an elderly widow struggling with anxiety over the loss of a spouse “and they’ll start feeling better” when they begin “telling you about the six children they raised.”

A paramedic or an EMT may never know who or what awaits them.

“We can get a call from combat veterans,” Thompson says. “You would be amazed what it does to just talk to them. They don’t have to be super sick for you to make a difference. And you can be the person to change somebody’s life whether they are dying or not.”

A part of his DNA

Thompson has been a certified paramedic for seven years.

“I got my paramedic certification while attending East Carolina University,” he says. “My best friend, Greyson Vann, was getting his paramedic clinicals, and I got super interested.”

Thompson enrolled at Lenoir Community College in Kinston and attained his certification. He has been a paramedic since 2015, working with Lenoir County EMS from 2015 to 2018 and with New Hanover Regional Medical Center, too, before coming to Cumberland County EMS.

He comes from a family of legal persuasion. His late grandfather was a Cumberland County Superior Court judge. He has an uncle and an aunt who are lawyers.

“But I’ve always been interested in medicine,” Thompson says.

He one day wants to become a physician, like his friend Greyson Vann, now in medical residency at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“He is in his second year of medical residency,” Thompson says. “I’m starting school at Methodist University in the fall to finish my bachelor’s degree, and then apply.”

He will continue to work with Cumberland County EMS.

Being a paramedic is just a part of Thompson’s DNA, and just like being an EMT is to Tina Ray. She’ll be following in Thompson’s footsteps as she is scheduled to graduate in November from Fayetteville Technical Community College’s campus in Spring Lake with her paramedic certificate.

“It’s rewarding being a first-responder,” Ray, 34, says.

The job of a paramedic or an EMT, she says, is not for everybody. “But you get your rewards,” she says, “by helping people and helping the community.”


The Heartfelt Banquet was held in February at Manna Church, with 182 in attendance, including survivors of medical crises, the EMS paramedics who were first on the scene, members of the cath team, cardiac surgeons and everyone in between.

“The most amazing picture I have in my mind was how powerful it was to see our very young cardiac arrest survivor who had a heart attack and who was able to recover, go through cardiac rehab and then stand on stage while holding her young daughter in her arms while she told her amazing story,” says Michelle Keasling, line director of Corporate Cardiac Service for Cape Fear Valley Health.

And Jack Thompson was moved, too, when he later saw the woman from Eastover that he, Lt. Dashawn Bassett and Gabriella Santiago were there for in October.

“Just seeing her standing and talking,” Thompson says. “We did CPR on her a good 30 to 40 minutes. Just seeing her there was a humbling experience.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., cardiac patients, Cumberland County EMS, Heartfelt Banquet, paramedics