By Rose Papp
Friday my excitement was nearly uncontainable as we prepared to pick up our guests. I had never done anything this remarkable in my five years working as an EMT. The payoff would prove to be more rewarding than I had hoped
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had found two deserving children and their families among many at their Children’s Hospital to receive a special gift of Super Bowl tickets. Once they had the tickets there was the matter of transportation to Detroit. Pittsburgh is five hours away from the city in which their team would compete against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, too far for a car trip. STAT MedEvac offered to fly them by private jet to Detroit free of charge. Hampton Inn in Monroe also offered four rooms for lodging to the group without charge. And Community EMS, a local, non-profit, EMS company, offered free transportation while this special group was in Detroit.
On Wednesday, four days before the Super Bowl, at Community EMS’ headquarters, I was approached by our QA officer with the opportunity to be the ‘driver’ for our guests. He explained that a driver with medical expertise was preferable for a four day event. I immediately requested a partner for the mission, someone reliable and professional. You see, EMT’s typically work in pairs and Gabe, my partner of six months, had quickly become my counterpart, not to mention, he’s a better driver.
Community EMS hurriedly pulled together resources to make this a wonderful trip for six special individuals. At the same time Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh was pulling together to contribute as much as they possibly could to give these families a dream trip. Nurses pooled money and management ironed out as many details as possible, coordinating communication between Community EMS, STAT MedEvac and NFL event staff. There was little time to work as this marvelous gift had been received only shortly before the Super Bowl.
When Friday arrived Gabe and I drove a non-emergency van to the ASIG FBO at Metro Airport where the jet would be landing. The jet was beautiful and lent the air of importance this group deserved. John Chamberlain, the director of STAT MedEvac’s Office of Business Relations met us at the top of the stairs and invited us in to meet the guests, and crew that would also be taking the group home. It was not hard to put the faces of theses wonderful people with the names we’d been given. Shawn Jr. at 16 had a smile destined to melt girls’ hearts. Tall and lanky, Gabe thought he was a cowboy in the making. Katie was a peach of a girl, small and full of chutzpah. When you met her it was almost an automatic reaction to give her a nickname. I tried to control the urge to call her “Katie girl”, but Gabe later christened her “French Fry” due to her insatiable appetite for America’s favorite snack. These two were the stars of the show.
Corey, Shawn’s brother looked as if he had stepped off the set of the “OC”. His mother Wanda was in every way what you’d want a mom to be. Capable and energetic she had a sparkle to her eyes that could make a gray day brighter and I knew immediately that her husband, Shawn Sr., would be the life of the party. Tina, Katie’s mom, was also her lifeline and her friend, constantly by her side, her devotion was priceless. Pat and her husband Ron were the veritable godparents of the group.
We had an uneventful first trip from the airport to the hotel but once there we soon discovered that Katie and Tina’s luggage was missing. Somehow it had made its way away from the rest of the luggage in to the patient compartment snugly stowed in a cabinet of pillows. As soon John Chamberlain found out he set about to get the luggage back to Detroit. In the meantime Katie needed her medical supplies and no flight could get back in time. Pat made a flurry of phone calls to get prescriptions to a local pharmacy and procuring other urgently needed items. Gabe and I went out to retrieve them while the group ate dinner at Red Lobster and we later retrieved the luggage from the airport. All was going well until we reached our exit to the hotel and our van began to overheat. We made it to the hotel but found early the following morning that we would have to make due with a lower capacity van until repairs could be made to the original van.
Saturday Gabe was bound and determined to get the Clemens family into the NFL Experience despite reports of the show being sold out. When we arrived at the show we found it was not sold out but there was a teeming mob of fans waiting to get in. Encouraged by Gabe’s resolve I did my best to procure tickets in a timely fashion while the Clemens’ shopped a nearby NFL merchandise store and Shawn Sr. displayed his original Terrible Towel for anyone who caught his eye. While we were occupied Gabe had been busy swapping trucks with one of Community EMS’ mechanics and finding the best way into the show.
Successful after spending two hours in the city we returned to pick up a rather bored rest of the party. The Millers and the Perkins would spend the afternoon in the impressive Renaissance Center since Katie’s one desire for the day was to shop. At four o’clock the Clemens’ who had joined the Millers were ready to be picked up. Gabe and I had been avoiding exorbitant parking fees by hanging out at the hip Eastern Market. Once everyone was piled in the van I suggested we all take a walk around the much touted Winter Blast. Unfortunately the rain, mixed with snow, mixed with freezing rain did not let up and the open air extravaganza turned into a race to the other end where the van was parked. Despite the weather Katie found several items that suited her haute couture including a knit cap and multiple t-shirts. The Clemens’ were cheerful to be there, and I had never been so happy to be soaked and chilled. Hey, at least my underwear was dry.
That night we retired, and thawed, at the hotel and had a pizza party in the hotel lobby. Quite appropriate considering that the next day was Game Day. Sunday was the big day, the main event, the purpose of life, okay maybe only the purpose of life to those two guys beating their chests in the freezing wind on top of their RV, but it was here and the group was suitably excited. We took our noon repast at Burger King where Shawn Jr. was kind enough to reserve our seats for us by spelling EMS on the table with salt and pepper packets. Katie had, you guessed it, a large helping of fries and we were all, fortified by the essential vitamins and nutrients in a Whopper, ready to go.
Gabe took us off the beaten (and police sanctioned) route to the Gratiot entrance to Ford Field and we left our friends in the care of the event staff. We would later learn that ADA assistance meant being dropped off at the door and the contact number we had all been given was out of service. But by all accounts the game was what it promised to be and the Steelers earned victory bolstered by the sea of yellow towels surrounding the field in the stands. Gabe and I were only asked directions about fifty times while we waited for our guests to emerge from Ford Field. Once we were all reunited we had the arduous task of getting out of the city. The long trip back to the hotel was broken up by serenades to country music, Katie’s music of choice. Even as I lay in bed that night I started to feel the let down of my new friends going home.
In the morning we exchanged contact information and then had a pleasant lunch at Cracker Barrel before we took them to the airport. Once again there was that beautiful jet waiting for them. The STAT MedEvac team had decorated the inside with team colors and even had a cake for the victorious fans to enjoy on their trip home. We promised to see them again and drove away feeling rather grave. The past four days had been a time of constant rewards that we would never forget. The smile on Shawn Jr.’s face when he got into the NFL experience, the way Katie giggled when someone let slip some French, and spending time with people that will steal your hearts without even trying are the things that made Super Bowl XL super.