There’s no such thing as a normal day when you work in EMS. No two assignments are the same, and you never know what you’ll be asked to do next.
Case in point: Paramedic Victoria Lux Alves and EMT Hailey Heagerty of American Medical Response (AMR) Orlando, Florida, were unexpectedly handed an assignment like nothing they had experienced before — to serve as the Advance Life Support (ALS) unit for a visiting world leader.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was stopping over in Orlando after a meeting with President Biden in Washington D.C. Bolsonaro was there to open a vice-consulate office in Orange County to assist the growing Brazilian population in the Central Florida city.
“It was so exciting and nerve-racking at the same time,” recalled Heagerty. “We didn’t have a lot of information at first, other than being told to go to a location and wait for a Secret Service official to come to us. This was the first time either one of us have been given an opportunity like this.”
That opportunity came when Operations Manager-East Region Yaima Acosta received a call from the Orlando Fire Department on behalf of the U.S. Secret Service, requesting if AMR could provide additional EMS assistance to President Bolsonaro’s medical delegation.
A chance of a lifetime, yes, but one that would require a lengthy commitment.
“The whole service involved 20 hours. The president’s personal doctor, who was with us during the entire length of this duty, called us prior to the president’s arrival at Orlando Executive Airport, just to confirm the equipment and resources that we had in our ambulance,” said Lux Alves, a Brazilian American, who added that EMS in the South American country looks very different to what it is in the U.S. “When we arrived at the airport to meet the presidential delegation, the president’s doctor came into our ambulance and stayed with us throughout the duration of our service. He was very interested in understanding how our EMS system works.”
Much to everyone’s relief, nothing happened during the president’s stay that would have required Lux Alves and Heagerty to put their knowledge and equipment into action, but if there had been, they were ready for it.
“We were serving more as a standby in the event something major occurred,” said Heagerty. “Still, given who we were assisting and protecting, we were very nervous but knew we were prepared if an emergency came our way. We were instructed ahead of time to follow our protocols, and we discussed where we would take the president in case of a serious situation. The team had also been in contact with Orlando Regional Medical Center, so they were prepared, too.”
And to everyone’s delight, the president’s visit went off without a hitch. The president’s team was also extremely pleased with and grateful for Lux Alves and Heagerty’s assistance, so much so that Bolsonaro, afterward, personally, thanked the two for their service.
“Due to the president’s busy schedule, we weren’t able to interact with him that much. But at the end of our assignment, he took time to come out and shake our hands, introduce himself and take a picture with us. It was a very cool experience for us,” said Heagerty.
Lux Alves says the assignment was particularly special for her because she was serving the leader of her homeland.
“I was extremely honored to be able to escort the president of my home country, especially knowing that my family supports him. The entire Brazilian delegation was so welcoming and receptive to us. The doctor and other delegation members made sure our food, water and other needs were met during our time with them,” said Lux Alves. “And when our service ended, we were invited into the lobby of the airport to talk to several members of the delegation, who wanted to see the inside of the ambulance. Many of them also had a lot of questions as they were interested in our equipment and setup. The entire event was truly a unique experience.”
So, was that “unique” experience something these EMS professionals would be open to undergoing again? Both said yes, adding that whether they were serving and protecting a global leader or a resident in their neighborhood, their commitment to deliver the best EMS intervention possible wouldn’t change, because everyone deserves excellent medical assistance —president and everyday people alike.