WEDDINGTON – Saving lives was never a job for Mary Ann DeSimone. It was a passion, a way of life – and entirely volunteer.
DeSimone recently celebrated her retirement from 20 years as an emergency medical service volunteer with Matthews. Matthews Fire & EMS honored the 68-year-old Weddington resident with a retirement party on Thursday, Aug. 29. DeSimone officially completed her work with the department on Sept. 1 after volunteering at the Matthews Alive! Festival.
“It’s been a great run,” she said. “I didn’t think it would last that long.”
DeSimone became interested in serving as an EMS volunteer shortly after moving to the Charlotte area from the Chicago suburbs in the early 1990s. In January 1992, DeSimone saw an announcement that Matthews Rescue & EMS – which was, at the time, separate from the town’s fire department – was launching an EMT class.
Though she’d previously done secretarial work and had no experience in emergency medical services, DeSimone decided to enroll in the class. She officially started work as an EMS volunteer on Sept. 1, 1993 – exactly 20 years prior to her last day volunteering with the department – and immediately loved it.
“We all got along just fantastic,” DeSimone said. “I was new to the community and wanted to know more, and it was a good way to get to know people. We had so much fun in those days. There was a lot of camaraderie” among the volunteers.
DeSimone began working 12-hour, overnight shifts, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Part of the challenge of being an EMS volunteer was gaining experience, she said, adding there are very few things she hasn’t seen during her 20 years serving the town.
“What you read in books is not at all like what you see when treating patients,” she said, adding she’s responded to everything from gunshot wounds and car wrecks to people having a heart attack.
But as a self-proclaimed “trauma junkie,” DeSimone said she’s one of those people with a gift for handling ugly situations.
“I think you have to have a certain stomach to go into EMS,” she said. “Not everyone can do it, and if blood bothers you, you’re not going to make it.”
Another challenge was having to occasionally do “detective work.” Because she was often one of the first people on the scene of an emergency, DeSimone would sometimes have to assess the situation, talk to patients and figure out problems based on little information. Sometimes patients would forget what medicine they took, what allergies they had, whether they had high blood pressure and so on, she said.
“Detective work was the interesting part,” DeSimone said. “Sometimes we had no information to go on.”
One of her favorite memories was when she was awarded a Most Volunteer Hours for 2005 certificate. That was the same year she was diagnosed with breast cancer – the same disease that claimed the life of her mom when DeSimone was 19 years old. But in spite of her own diagnosis, DeSimone still came out on top.
“Still with all that, I managed to get the most volunteer hours that year,” she said.
DeSimone also has received other accolades and awards, including being the second member of the department to receive a Lifetime Membership Award. The first was Derek Layman, a volunteer with the department who died earlier this year from cancer at 35 years old.
The biggest thing DeSimone has learned over the past 20 years, she said, is the importance of volunteerism.
“I enjoyed giving back, and that’s almost getting lost these days – true volunteerism, where you give and don’t get something back,” she said. “But true volunteerism does give you something back; it’s a satisfaction.”