My exposure to EMS started when I was a little girl. My mom grew up living in a funeral home, as my Grandpa Lyle owned and operated the funeral home in Logan Kansas. Like most EMS services during that time period, my Grandpa's funeral hearse did double duty as an ambulance as well. My Grandpa went back to school when he was in his 50s and became a paramedic. He attended the first paramedic class offered by KU in Kansas City. My grandpa then moved to Topeka Kansas where he became active with the Kansas Board of EMS, soon becoming the director. I spent a lot of my summers as a child with my Grandparents in Topeka, and would frequently accompany my Grandpa to work. So I kind of grew up playing with resuscitation equipment. (I suppose that sounds kind of odd...lol). My Grandpa Lyle (Eckhart) became known as the Grandfather of Kansas EMS and was referred to as Grandpa by his many students and younger colleagues.
I didn't get into EMS immediately. I became a single teenage mother and needed to be able to make a living quickly. So after I graduated high school, I went to college and became a paralegal. I worked for Delta Dental Plan of Kansas until I gave birth to my 2nd and last child, Lyle. (I'll bet you can guess how we chose his name). After having a uterine rupture during Lyle's birth, with both of us having to be resuscitated, there was no way I was leaving him, so I didn't return to my job. I stayed home with Lyle until he entered school. I saw an ad in the Conway Springs newspaper about an EMT class starting and about how they would handle paying for the class if I volunteered with Conway Springs EMS. I had some time on my hands, so I thought why not? Dixie Simpson came to Conway Springs and taught the class. I remember thinking that there would be no way I would be able to pass everything required to become an EMT. I studied like crazy, went to boards, and was completely shocked to hear that I passed. After I was told that I passed, and after I finished crying, I spoke with the examiners about my Grandpa (who had died about 10 years prior to this). They were all just tickled to be talking to "Lyle Eckhart's granddaughter".
I started running calls with Conway Springs EMS (before I was even certified). Jim Brozovich allowed me to ride along, with strict instructions not to do anything until I was certified. I remember the moment that I became aware that this is what I want to do with my life. I was in the back of the ambulance on the way home from a call with Jim. We were talking and I told him that this doesn't feel at all like work. He told me that he had always felt the same way about EMS. Things just kind of took off from there. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to go to paramedic school right away, but I worked as an EMT for a few years. Then I took an EMT-I course which allowed me to perform a few more interventions than I could perform as an EMT. I then got a full-time job as an ER tech at St. Francis hospital in Wichita. I continued to work at St. Francis and run calls with Conway Springs EMS. I then decided that it was time to go to paramedic school. I began my paramedic education at Hutchinson community college and applied for a job with Sedgwick County EMS. I got hired with SCEMS as a part time EMT. I then dropped my hours down to part time at St. Francis and floated to St. Joe as well. I continued to work at the hospital, SCEMS, run calls with conway springs EMS when I was home and finish my education. It was after graduation that I was hired as a full time paramedic with SCEMS, so I decided that I had to quit my job with the hospitals. As luck would have it, my first partner at SCEMS was Jim! I couldn't think of a better way to begin my career. We were partners for a little over a year before I got moved to a different shift. I then stayed at the county for a few years before my crew leader retired and started working for Mulvane EMS. He urged me to apply there as well. I was completely happy at Sedgwick County, but thought it might be interesting to work for a service that is a little further away from the hospitals. I went and interviewed, reluctantly, but they made me an offer that I just couldn't turn down, so I went to work for Mulvane EMS for a few years. It was during my time at Mulvane that I became the director of Conway Springs EMS after some unfortunate circumstances. I would have to say that the circumstances surrounding that change were some of the hardest times that I have ever been through. Throughout my career, I have often thought back to stories that my Grandpa told me and stories that my family told me about my Grandpa, and that helped guide my decision making processes. It was then that I truly understood that doing the right thing feels horrible sometimes.You often hear about the camaraderie and brother/sisterhood amongst first responders. I can attest that the relationships I have formed with my first responder family are very real and very strong. When I have to make a big decision or have questions about anything, I have an entire network at my fingertips. Other EMS directors and ER physicians and connections made over the years in the medical community have been such amazing help. There wouldn't be a Conway Springs EMS without them.
I'm trying to think of some of the lows. The lows are pretty bad, so it's a good thing that there are so many highs. One of the lows is losing our brothers and sisters. Helen Andra and Necia Billson's deaths were pretty difficult. Mike Corn's death was extremely difficult. Hearing the last page coming out over hundreds of radios at their funerals is something that I will never be able to think about without tears being near. There are also the calls and the patients. Most of the time, those are highs. Because even if all we were able to do was make sure the patient was warm, just knowing that we made them feel a little bit better is a pretty good feeling for us as ems providers. There are the deaths and tragedies. Those are pretty horrible, but again, being able to hug their family members, look them in the eye and tell them that we tried everything that we could think of is a pretty powerful thing. In a small community, you can tell that it really brings a comfort to the family, because they truly know that you tried your hardest. Just being able to give them that small amount of comfort outweighs the pain of what just happened.
And then there's the politics. I think that is probably the hardest part of the job. At least for me, everything else has seemed easy compared to the politics. I have been very fortunate to have such supportive city officials in Conway Springs. That isn't the case everywhere.
Throughout my career at Conway Springs EMS, I have gotten my entire family involved. My husband Mike has been with the Conway Springs Fire Department for years, and recently became a certified EMR, so he is helping run calls with Conway Springs EMS. My father, Ron Aubushon, became CPR certified, and is a driver, mechanic and handyman for CSEMS. My son, Lyle goes through all of our medications monthly and removes and replaces expired medications, as well as stocking shelves and cleaning. My mother, Cindy Aubushon, helps me out with office work.
I guess there really aren't a lot of lows. The highs outweigh the lows by far for me. There are missed holidays and missed times with family. My family has just learned to adapt and overcome those kind of things. Who says you have to celebrate Christmas on Christmas? If I'm working a holiday or my birthday, they just come to me, with the understanding that I may get a call and have to leave. They will be there when I get back or we will be together another time. I am pretty sure that all of my colleagues on Conway Springs EMS feel the same way. They are some amazing people. Two of our members have 6 children. They are very active in each of their children's lives, coaching, leading girl scout and boy scout troops, working other jobs. A few of our members have served our community for over 25 years! And they still get up in the middle of the night if the pager goes off. Some of our members don't really have any ties to our city, they just heard that we needed help. So they drive, some as far as 45 miles one way, to cover a 15 hour shift and then drive 45 miles back home. All of our volunteers receive a reimbursement of $1.00 per hour they are on call. This reimbursement is used to cover expenses such as gas, meals, etc.
If one of us gets sick, there won't be a day that passes that we aren't visited, called, texted, etc by one of our first responder family members. My husband was ill a few years ago and was hospitalized at KU medical center in Kansas City. I of course went and stayed with him. There was somebody with me EVERY DAY from EMS or the Fire department. We were there for around 6 weeks. We received care packages, cash, you name it. We never had to worry about our laundry getting done, our bills getting paid or our child having someone to keep him and get him to and from school. I can't tell you how many different houses our son was in during that time. We never would have made it through that difficult time without our first responder family.
Conway Springs native Dawn Cornejo recalls her years with Conway Springs EMS
Mar 14, 2018 at 12:30 PM