WASHINGTON – Eileen Williams was a veteran Prince William County Emergency Medical Technician, and then one day, she became the heart attack patient in the back of a county ambulance rushing to a hospital.
Williams was beyond scared. She was a cardiac technician who had waited 12 hours to call for help because her initial symptoms did not match her medical training.
She says she felt a sense of doom and “did not think I was coming home.”
But she fought her way back and began to train other EMTs about how best to handle women with heart symptoms. She also launched a program to help the patients they transport and treat.
Three fire departments in the county now have equipped their ambulances to provide some extra TLC. Each women is given a handmade red scarf from the community.
“The scarf is soft, and just shows love from people who are thinking about them, or have generally been through this themselves,” Williams says.
The women also are given information about support groups and a card with William’s phone number and email address.
There are scarf distribution programs around the country — almost all the scarves homemade, and predominantly red, the color of the women’s heart health movement. But those scarves are distributed in hospitals. The Prince William program is currently the only one that provides them during the initial ambulance ride.
It began in William’s own Buckhall Volunteer Fire Department. This week, two more departments in the county joined in, the Lake Jackson Volunteer Fire Department and the Nokesville Volunteer Fire Department.
Williams says the ambulance program is starting out slow because they are still lining up volunteers to make the scarves. Among the first to sign up, two 10-year-old girls who have knitted about half a dozen of the red “banners of courage” for heart attack victims.
For Williams, the whole project is very personal.
“I am an EMT and to me this kind of comfort is really important,” she says. She recalls her own story and adds, “These women are really terrified on the way to the hospital.”
Editor’s Note: Throughout February, WTOP will be focusing on women’s heart health, with information on prevention, treatment and reasons for hope. We also will bring you the incredible stories of survivors from the region — a sisterhood of women celebrating a second chance at life with a commitment to help others.