I met Jay Terwilliger, the president of the Highlands First Aid Squad, because he didn’t like something I wrote about the First Aid Squad. But because he didn’t like it, he didn’t simply bash me on Facebook or anyplace else. He e-mailed me and asked me politely if I needed more information and invited me to meet him at the first aid station sometime on Saturday, when he was on duty there, ready for any emergency calls that came in.
After an hour and a half meeting, discussion, tour of the building I had not been in in many years, I walked away with a lot of information. But more importantly, I walked away knowing I had just met a most unusual, most generous, and most uncomplaining man who will forever on be an inspiration to me.
Another first aid volunteer was with him, Rosemary Ryan, former councilwoman, current driver for the first aid, and mother of what will probably be another first aid volunteer driver very soon.
Jay was standing on the far side of the room, his back to me. As he came forward, hand outstretched, Rosemary explained to me I should not feel offended if he did not look directly at me. Jay is blind, she explained. It’s something I immediately understood.
After shaking hands, we sat across the table, Jay explaining, me listening, about the first aid squad of the 21st century. Sure, they’re down members, he said. It’s hard to give up your time these days, what with the extra training you have to take first, both parents in a family working, certain hours when it’s more difficult to get volunteers to come out because of obligations at home, and other reasons. But we need a new truck anyway, he said. We’re down to only one that works..the other one was a used vehicle seven years ago when we bought it and the one good one is seven years old itself. If we can get another one now…..and Highlands council seemed very receptive to the idea…then when we retire the first one in a few years, we’ll still have a rig we can use. Makes sense, I thought, making a note to ask the Mayor if it was going to be on the next agenda to go out to bid for a new ambulance.
Jay told me he’s an EMT as well as squad president, but because of his eyesight, he usually goes as an extra pair of hands when needed, a voice of experience to younger squad members. But he can’t go every day, he added. In response to my query, he explained it’s because he’s on dialysis….three times a week.
Our conversation continued, my admiration rising. I learned he and his fiancé have a soon to be seven year old daughter. Sure, they’ll get married one day, he grinned. But I don’t have the money to support her, who also works. I haven’t got a job right now, but I am on disability.
Oh he’s hopeful, he said, when we got off the subject of first aid and volunteerism and his family life. I’m on the list to get a transplant, he explained. I knew how great a kidney transplant would be; it would mean the end of those many hours three days a week hooked up to a machine in Middletown. I’m on the list at Barnabas, he said proudly and happily.
In answer to my further questions, he agreed, yes, he knows it’s harder for him, and will take longer for him than the average person needing a transplant. Why is that, I asked. Well, as wonderful as transplants are, and as wonderful as donors are, I have to wait until a person dies in order to get one. So the list is longer. Why is that, I pursued. “Because I need a pancreatic transplant as well, and they won’t do one without the other. And a live person cannot transplant a pancreas and live. Both my organs have to come from the same donor, and that’s why he has to be deceased.”
So here I am, sitting in an outdated first aid building, talking to a volunteer who is blind, goes to dialysis three times a week, needing two new organs, and is on a list waiting for someone to die so he can start to live a better life.
“So, of all of this, Jay, what bothers you the most?” I asked. I gulped.
“You know what bothers me,” he said, without taking a second breath. “That we don’t have enough volunteers on the first aid squad.”
If you would like to volunteer for the Highlands First Aid Squad, you can visit the official borough site for a link to the First Aid Squad, you can stop in the First Aid Building and meet a volunteer, e-mail HighlandsEMS1721@gmail.com, or ask any volunteer.
They meet at 7 p.m. the first Monday of every month at the first aid building. There’s only 17 members now and they cover Highlands and are support for all the other towns around.