A DEVOTION OF LIFE TO THE CHARITY OF OTHERS
By: Krysta Kearney
Gail Dunmyer has found the secret to living a healthy and happy life, and that’s by helping others. The devotion and passion she carries is unparalleled to most. Everyday is spent working in healthcare as a licensed paramedic; helping patients, volunteering time at a variety of nonprofits and caring for her elderly mother, as an at home nurse. Now, at 64 years old she has a lifetime of achievements and memories of love and gratitude that she is able to look back on.
“My whole life has been preparing me to help people and you can do that in so many different ways. You can do that in ways that you’re trained to do and in ways that you’re not trained to do, and it’s important not to be afraid to do something different.”
The driving force behind what led her to where she is today has been the same her whole life. It’s to give back and help others. Dumyer had exemplary role models growing up, as her parents spent their lives doing the same thing. Her mother (now 95) was a WWII army nurse, as well as an original Rosie the Riveter. She worked at a military defense plant in Lancaster, PA and helped build Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Bombers. Then she went on to be a nurse to soldiers of WWII. Dunmyer’s father was a WWII soldier and fought hard his whole life for the greater good as well. Throughout both their lives they continued to help people and maintain a strong sense of pride in their community. Dunmyer spent much of her childhood travelling with her family (one of four children) all around the world. The exposure to the various countries and cultures opened her up to understanding that the world is vast. It helped her appreciate how fortunate she is, as well as where she lives, as there are a lot of people that have less. They would visit places like the Philippines and South America. Seeing the impoverished communities made her know that in her adult life, she wanted to give back and contribute to helping others.
In 1969, when Dunmyer was 13, her parents uprooted the family and moved to Miami, Fl. It was a hard time in the country, especially in the south. With city living came prevalent racial riots and much political turmoil. The first year they were there, was the first year of integration in schools and it became extremely difficult for the whole family so they decided to move to central Florida, to a smaller town. After graduating high school, she decided to move to a city nearby, the capital city of Tallahassee, all on her own.
“When I moved to Tallahassee I wanted to never move again so I settled down and made some roots.”
It was 1975 and the world was in a much different place than it is now. She knew that she wanted to do something in the medical field but wasn’t quite sure what. The birth of paramedics had just happened, it wasn’t until the Vietnam War that there was even such a healthcare position. She looked at the program and liked the curriculum and what the job entailed more so than being a nurse so she enrolled at the University of Tallahassee and eventually became a graduate of the third class ever in paramedics. Not only was she in one of the first classes ever but was also one of the first females in the state of Florida to become one.
“I took the program and graduated and not long after I was approached and asked if I would work in the emergency department.”
So, she took it on, but boy was it a challenge. It was 1982 and there had never ever been a paramedic in the emergency room. She had to win over nurses and workers of all positions. They questioned what she did and what her place was there. It was tough at first but through hard work and strong abilities she showed her worth. She knew if she didn’t go for it and challenge herself, there may never be an opportunity for that skillset in the ER again so she felt it was very necessary. Especially because at the time there was a nursing shortage. Once she won people over and they discovered the value of her position, she became a strong addition. Paramedics and nurses together are a great team, there are many things that nurses aren’t trained to do that paramedics are, they are stronger, together. Officially Dunmyer is the first paramedic in the state of Florida to have that work description, to work in the ER.
“It was a struggle in the beginning. I got a lot of negative responses, I had to push through that and believe in myself and what I could do, to be helpful.”
Once she started working in the ER, the University program saw worth in training their students how to work in the ER so they asked her to teach the clinicals in the paramedic program. She did this at two hospitals and one walk in center for a period of 8 years. This was all in addition to her pre existing job.
She ended up working in the ER for a total of 25 years, up until her husband was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, she was 50, with plans to retire in hopes to begin to focus solely on her charity work. No longer did it make sense, she felt like she needed to stay in the work field for a bit longer, with everything going on with her husband’s health, it seemed like the right thing to do. A shift in her career was created and she was asked to be the EMS coordinator for her local hospital, which entailed working with the hospital and multiple different EMS counties. She felt that would be a great retirement job, but it ended up becoming one of the hardest jobs ever.
Dunmyer is the liaison between the ER, the facility that a patient is at and EMS outreach and relations. She ensures there is a good experience for both the patient and for EMS. EMS is the gateway into any hospital, which is something that most people don’t realize. Dunmyer helps everyone involved, creating a strong bond and a unique relationship. Everything she does is for the sake of the patient, to ensure their safety and that they have the best care possible.
"It’s a dual role of helping our regional EMS providers for better patient care as well as growing market for my hospital. Educating EMS of our service lines so that the patient is taken to the most appropriate facility."
The position has been changing quite a bit since the Covid - 19 Pandemic. Her supervisor had her shift gears, he recognized the inner strength that she has, that her skills could be used in a new particular position that not just anyone can do. He put her in charge of the hospital supply chain for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), when there was no PPE that existed. Her job was to go out and find it, and so that’s exactly what she did. Then it became her duty to help out rural counties set up testing centers, ones that didn’t have the staffing or budget to do testing.
“Early on last year I set up testing stations completely dressed in PPE, so I got hot and dehydrated like everyone else! Then after that I was involved in all the vaccination programs. We had a really bad uptick in covid last month, mostly unvaccinated people were hospitalized in ICU on vents, we had to hire a refrigeration truck for a morgue at the hospital. Last month was really bad and it was hard on everybody.”
She hopes that she will get back to her original EMS coordinator role soon, that numbers in cases will start to go down.
“I had to adapt. I’m so grateful that I had this CEO that trusted me and believed in me that I can do it. He trusted that a paramedic is able to adapt, that we have this skill set and that I was able to help beyond my original position and I'm always grateful for that.”
As a result, last year she won the Frist Humanitarian Award at the HCA hospital. It is based on all of her accolades, her whole career, her volunteer work and what she has done regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic. It embodies her whole lifetime of achievements. To Dunmyer it’s the highest level of prestige you can get. Each year an award is given recognizing healthcare professionals that are both selfless in their acts and are inspiring to others. It recognizes people that go above and beyond in their commitment to helping people.
“(I did it for) Just the human connection of interacting with the people I work for and my clients, and my patients, that has always been my reward all these years. I never needed to be recognized but here I am, 65 and got recognized. I didn’t do it to be recognized, it was nice, but that’s not why I’ve done it all these years.”
She had plans to retire, but then the pandemic hit and she decided to keep working, she felt like there was a need for help. This year Dunmyer turns 66 and she plans to make a decision as to whether she will continue working or not.
“To get the best social security benefits, I will wait until I turn 66. I'm going to make my decision at the end of the year. I hope we have a good grip on handling the pandemic by then. I’ve been saying this for two years and it never happens, haha. Who knows what my decision will be, I’m going to wait until then, as much as I really, really love what I do, I’m also aware of my husbands age, I’m aware of my mothers age, I am going to need more time to take care of her and I do so much charity work that it’s hard to balance that with a full time job.”
Spending time with her husband has always taken priority, his impact on her life has been huge. He was also in the medical field his whole life, they have now been married 36 years. Dunmyer says they work well because they have so much in common. He is originally from the north, also in the medical field, and has the same goals.
“I think we work so well because he adopted a lot of the same firm beliefs that I have in helping people. If you are in the medical field you’re helping people, so why not extend it into everything you do. So he supports everything I do, we do it together.”
Not only does Dunmyer devote her life in career to helping others, she has also spent her free time doing charitable work. The list of nonprofit’s she currently is involved in now and has been in the past, is immeasurable. Being unable to list all of them without writing a novel, we have decided to point out some of which she personally has the most pride in. The first is Honor Flight Tallahassee. Dunmyer has been volunteering for this nonprofit for 8 years, she assists in fundraising and functions as a guardian to a WWII veteran, escorting and caring for the veteran on a trip to the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C. She flew on the inaugural flight in 2013 and has continued ever since.
“The most beautiful part of that whole volunteer experience, is that they talk about their entire experience of the war. For some reason they open up to their guardians, where they don’t usually. It’s like reading a history book from someone that actually witnessed it themselves.”
This is a nationwide program with multiple chapters that take flights to D.C. during various times. They bring 74 soldiers and their guardians, as well as all the medical equipment they need. Dunmyer says that a bond is formed with the veterans that’s unbroken. You become their family. It’s hard because each year veterans pass away, it’s also what makes it such a wonderful program, to give veterans the opportunity to go to D.C. and honor those who have fallen and who are still with us, to pay respects in all ways.
“Most emotional i've ever gotten, we were in the airport, there were troops being deployed to go to Iraq, we walked by them, and as we walked by...every single one of those soldiers clapped, we were sobbing as we’re pushing our veterans because it was the young acknowledging and showing respect and honor to our soldiers from WWII.”
Another nonprofit that is no longer active but that Dunmyer holds near and dear to her heart, one of the most influential programs she has ever been involved in, is Warriors and Quiet Waters Southern Chapter/Fishing with Warriors. It’s a restorative program for active soldiers who have been traumatically injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. Injured Purple Heart recipients would go to the restorative program to receive help, it was part of their treatment before they would go back to active duty.
“I put my heart and soul into Warriors and Quiet Waters Southern Chapter/Fishing with Warriors since 2015. I was a board member and helped form and organize the 501-C 3 and served in a number of positions. The purpose of the organization was to bring in active soldiers not yet released from their Medical Battalions, and provide a restorative program to help them heal through inshore and offshore fishing. We involved the entire community to support our servicemen during their visit as well as fundraising for the FX.”
Dunmyer’s job was to run the medical department. They had to have everything available to the soldiers and be prepared for any and all medical emergencies, some of them had brain injuries, some had lost a limb, they had everything on call so they wouldn’t have to make a trip to the hospital. She was also involved in a lot of organizing, coordinating events and figuring out housing and meals for the soldiers, even figuring out how to get them there.
“It took a lot of organizations and communities to be involved. These are soldiers who don't talk about their injuries and we let the coastal waters of Florida help heal them. We would take them off shore as well as inshore fishing. It was a lot of work, they needed to have a place to stay, feeding them, and involved the community. We would pick them up and escort them to the coast of Florida.”