Christina Saunders, RN, and Brody Hooper could see their patient struggling as they waited for a computed tomography (CT) scan to begin.

Her breathing, already labored, would worsen when she lay flat for the procedure. Anxious and frightened, she needed more than the encouragement and reassurance Saunders and Hooper were already giving. So the duo, who have worked together for years caring for patients in the emergency department at UVM Health Network – Elizabethtown Community Hospital, did something unexpected. They started singing: “Sometimes in our lives … We all have pain … We all have sorrow.”

Saunders, a registered nurse, and Hooper, an ED technician, did their best to bring Bill Withers’ classic “Lean on Me” to life in a radiology exam room, they watched their patient relax, lay back — and suddenly join their chorus: “Lean on me … When you’re not strong … and I’ll be your friend … I’ll help you carry on.”

More than a year later, the experience still stands as one of Saunders’ favorite stories about her time working with Hooper – an erstwhile teenager-turned-health-care-professional who is now preparing to leave the hospital to attend medical school and realize his longtime dream of becoming a physician.

If that feels, to you, like the beginning of Hooper’s story, you’d be wrong. Or, more precisely, late – by more than a decade.

Hooper is not your average medical student. At age 27, he’s several years older than average (24) and he brings with him a master’s degree in Medical Technology, which he earned for his thesis on using Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) to improve survival rates for patients experiencing refractory cardiac arrest (cardiac arrest that requires more than 10 minutes of CPR or more than three defibrillation attempts). He also brings years of experience as an ED technician, EMT and medical assistant in a variety of clinical settings.

His story begins 11 years ago, when, at age 16, he landed a job at his local hospital.

Brody has been driven from day one. Patients love him and his special way, and the respect and dignity he gives each patient and our team … it’s been an honor to work alongside him.

Julie Tromblee, MSN, RN, Vice President and Chief Nursing officer at Elizabethtown Community Hospital

Then the nurse manager of the hospital’s emergency department, Tromblee had met Hooper in 2011, when he approached the hospital about getting involved as a volunteer. At 16, after experiencing a family tragedy of his own, he already had a plan for his future in health care. In 2007, Hooper’s grandmother, Alma, had contracted an aggressive form of cancer that quickly led to her passing. But Hooper says he saw then the great care she received at The Fitzpatrick Cancer Center at UVM Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.

“I just saw the incredible amount of care and the impact they had on her — and on me,” he says. “That was when the switch flicked in my brain, and I knew I wanted to be a doctor.”

Hooper’s enthusiasm as a volunteer in the emergency department at Elizabethtown Community Hospital was quickly noted, says Tromblee. She knew his parents from around the community and heard from his father that Hooper was borrowing medical textbooks from the hospital to learn more about emergency medicine. Meanwhile, the hospital had quickly become one of Hooper’s favorite places to be. In the four months after joining the hospital as a volunteer, Hooper had started spending more and more time there: After school and on weekends – even after his high school soccer practices, just to be there as much as he possibly could. About six months after Hooper first started, Tromblee offered him a part-time job — a decision supported by the entire ED care team.

“I could see his drive,” she says. “He was engaged, learning everything he could. I asked him if he wanted to work per diem in the ED, and you could see that spark of his.”

As an ED technician — a newly-created position at the hospital — Hooper had the flexibility to grow within a role that was still being defined. He would ultimately gain a wide variety of clinical skills and experience: At age 18 he earned his EMT certification from Mountain Lakes Regional EMS in Lewis, N.Y., and began working for the hospital’s transport service as both an EMT and a driver — positions Hooper pursued because he wanted to ensure patients were quickly connected with the right level of care.

Being able to switch roles, from an ED tech to an EMT or a driver, is really important to me. Because I want to be able to do whatever is needed to get patients out the door and to that higher level of care, if they need it.

Brody Hooper

In his ever-broadening role in the hospital, Hooper also served lengthy stints as a laboratory assistant, a clinical assistant in the emergency department of Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, and as a contributor to clinical projects — such as serving as lead educator for the hospital’s tele-stroke program. He’s also managed inter-facility transfers for the hospital.

Along the way, Hooper continued to pursue his education, earning his bachelor’s degree in Health Science in 2017, from Stony Brook University, and his master’s degree from Upstate Medical University in Syracuse in 2021. He says he plans to continue managing the hospital’s stroke program even as he attends medical school at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y.

While Hooper isn’t sure if he will ultimately end up back in Ticonderoga, the hospital remains a special place for him, with connections forged over the course of more than a decade of caring for the community where he grew up.

I would just say that this is – has been – my dream. If you have a dream, you don’t give up. No matter where I am, Elizabethtown will always be where everything started for me.

Brody Hooper

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