Another day that I have to take a break from posting Jagoffs to pay tribute to an important person in my life.
Elizabeth Wertz-Evans, died yesterday due to breast cancer that had metastasized into her liver. She was a great friend, boss, mentor and one of the most passionate/compassionate people I’ve ever known. Her personal drive and level of perseverance despite what life threw at her, was incredible.
I’ve summarized some of what I believe made Liz one of the most incredible people whom I have known. Her drive to accrue personal and professional accomplishments was incredible and infectious. In the meantime, her compassion to care about an individual was equally incredible. She had endless energy, and passion and never took “no” for an answer.
If you’re an Emergency Medical Services professional, you’ve been touched by her passion to create education regarding trauma patients, pediatric patients and, more specifically, special needs pediatric patients and may not even recognize it. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to walk with Liz and her family around the Shadyside Hospital perimeter during one of her admissions. On our walk, we passed two EMS trainee’s sitting outside the hospital. I thought, what a shame that, here she was.. the author of some of key parts of their curriculum… but they had no idea that this, now feeble woman, had such an impact on their training and future profession.
While we all have things that occur in life that are tragic, Liz , in my opinion, had more than her fair share. And, when these events occurred, she always turned them into a cause for good.
Shortly after her birth, Liz’ daughter Amanda developed a seizure disorder that became a life-long medical condition. Amanda became a child with special needs. Not only did Liz, and the rest of her family, take care of Amanda at home, she used this as an opportunity to create a training course for EMS professionals and teachers re: how to appropriately treat a child with special needs. There is now a Pennsylvania State EMS Award given to an EMS provider each year in Amanda’s name.
14 years into Amanda’s life, Amanda was hospitalized for a somewhat routine surgery. The one night that Liz did not stay at the hospital, went home to rest, a medical error caused Amanda to die. Liz was crushed as you can imagine. She adapted and moved forward using this opportunity to discuss medical errors to her peers and also to learn about Highmark’s Caring Place to help her, her husband Patrick and Amanda’s 2 siblings, grieve. They became strong advocates for The Caring Place.
A little over a year after Amanda’s death, on the drive home from a Caring Place event to celebrate Amanda’s life, Liz’s husband and Amanda’s sister were in a car crash. Liz’s husband died on impact. Amanda’s sister survived but went through numerous surgeries and physical therapy sessions. Liz was there to manage all of it. She still did not lose her drive to educate and use what life threw at her as some type of teachable moment for others.
Liz eventually remarried. Life was on a good track.
A few years ago, Liz, was diagnosed with breast cancer. As you can imagine, it was another punch in the gut for her but, she continued to be positive. She looked for ways to educate others by authoring books, writing text book chapters and writing articles and advocating for changes in the patient experience.
Not very long after being told she was in remission, Liz found out that the cancer had metastasized to her liver. It was a total surprise and another severe emotional hit. Liz was the most detailed, anal-retentive person I’ve ever met.. especially when it came to managing health care. How could this have happened… to HER of all people we all wondered. Right away, she started researching on what the next steps were. In the meantime, making notes about her care, so that she could help others who might go through the same process after her. The book of her notes was just published by the Oncology Nurses Society just 2 weeks ago. (A Nurse’s Journey Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer)
As a young paramedic, Liz took a chance and hired me to work in her EMS department waaaaay back when. I had no experience to do what she had hired me to do but she assured me that she had faith in me and basically held my hand the entire way. As her career progressed, she continued to open doors for me professionally. As changes occurred in each of our lives, we continued to adapt and maintain a close friendship.
Liz held my hand, emotionally, through many of personal and professional changes over the years from job choices, date choices, child care, health care… you name it! So, when given the opportunity to visit with her, last week, to talk about her impending death and say our goodbyes, my personal request was not to take a picture of our faces as something to remember, I requested that we take a photo of her holding my hand, one last time. She obliged.
Rest in peace Liz! You are the epitome of someone “leaving this world in better condition than how you found it!”
You were a fantastic mentor to many of us in our EMS careers AND personal lives. You will be missed…. but your impact on all of us will be forever.
Please keep Liz’s family in your thoughts and prayers.
One of Liz’s big pet peeves: I used to refer to “fireman” and “policeman” all the time. She would always correct me by saying, “Women can’t firemen or policeman..it’s fire fighter and police officer!”