C/Ping it beneath the cut because it's one of those papers that you have to register for if you want to see it online.
National association honors former resident
By Amy Chen
CONCORD - When Richard Hodge was 20 years old, he fractured his spinal column in a glider accident.
After two years as an emergency medical technician (EMT), Hodge had just started working as a paramedic in Concord, and his hobby at the time was flying gliders. That day, the wind changed and he crashed in a field near the airport in Vacaville.
"I couldn't move my legs, and I knew right away I was paralyzed," said Hodge, now 47.
After the accident, Hodge was rushed to a hospital in Fairfield and transferred to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, where he underwent surgery. Following the surgery, he endured almost eight months of spinal cord rehabilitation.
Only a year after the accident, he was back at work doing what he loves best -- saving lives.
Hodge was recently awarded a "Stars of Life" medallion by the American Ambulance Association for more than 29 years of service and dedication to his profession.
He was one of 100 paramedics and emergency medical technicians nationwide who were selected to receive the honor earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
"He's someone who could have been in a wheelchair and is out there rescuing people," said Leslie Mueller, operations director for American Medical Response in Contra Costa County, for whom Hodge works.
"He overcame great tragedy and now he saves others. He's been a patient in a vulnerable situation. He knows what it feels like."
As a paramedic, Hodge said he was accustomed to giving, instead of getting, help.
"It was frustrating to be on the getting end and feeling helpless," said Hodge, whose bruised spinal cord left him unable to walk for about six months. "In this case, I was the patient and unable to help myself."
Other than a slight limp, Hodge has recovered from his injuries. He has flown a glider a few times since the accident but now spends his free time grounded and happy to be on his feet.
"I just kept telling myself -- and forced myself to believe -- that it wasn't going to be permanent, and I was going to recover," Hodge said. "I was going to get back to work."
Most of all, the experience taught him how to identify with his patients.
"The ultimate goal is getting them home to their families and having them return to a normal life as much as possible," he said.
Hodge worked in Concord until 1987, when he moved to Oakley. As a field training officer, he now takes new paramedics under his wing.
He is credited with his involvement in "Every 15 Minutes," a partnership between the Highway Patrol and local police and fire departments to educate high school students about the impact of drinking while driving.
Through the "Every 15 Minutes" program, Hodge has helped re-enact accident scenes for students at Oakley's Freedom High, as well as Concord and Clayton Valley high schools.
"They see the consequences of drinking and driving and speeding," Hodge said.
After years of responding to traumatic accidents, he said he has learned not to take his wife or two children for granted.
"Those types of things can happen anytime to anyone," Hodge said. "You have more appreciation for every day that you have."
Amy Chen can be reached at 925-682-6440, ext. 26, or firstname.lastname@example.org.