This Brandeis student provided urgent care — in the middle of class

When Professor William Kapelle felt a sudden pain in class, Ben Palmere '18 was ready

Ben Palmere and Bill Kapelle sitting on the Rabb stepsPhoto/Mike Lovett

Ben Palmere '18 and William Kapelle.

It was the third day of class in the spring semester of 2018, and Associate Professor of History William Kapelle was in front of his Early Middle Ages history class — getting ready to talk about barbarians and the late Roman Empire — when he felt a terrible pain.

As it later turned out, Kapelle was suffering an aortic aneurysm and would soon be having open heart surgery. Fortunately, one of the students in the class that day happened to be well-prepared to provide the urgent help Kapelle needed.

Ben Palmere '18 was a double major in Health, Science and Social Policy and psychology with a history minor, but more importantly  in that particular moment  he is also a licensed EMT and was a supervisor for Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps.

Commonly known around campus as BEMCo, the corps is comprised of about 60 volunteers, all students, who provide 24/7 emergency medical assistance on campus.

"He sort of shot upright and said 'Ow,' that was the first sign that something wasn't right," Palmere recalled. "He excused himself and walked out of the room. At that point, everyone knew something wasn't right, and it felt like no one knew quite what to do next."

Then there was a thud in the hall as Kapelle fell to the ground. Without hesitation, Palmere bolted from his seat. He asked Kapelle a series of questions, and quickly determined he had to go to the hospital. He called the incident in to the BEMCo EMTs on call, who arrived within 2 minutes. An ambulance arrived a few minutes after that, which took Kapelle to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. From there, he went to Massachusetts General Hospital for surgery to have a sleeve put over his arteries.

Within a few months, Kapelle was back in good health, back in the classroom, and making some light humor about the ordeal.

"They turned me into the bionic professor," he joked.

The smooth process to get him the help he need started with Palmere's poise and preparedness.

"Ben was the doorway to an orderly procedure," Kapelle said. "I thought it was really encouraging for a student to take the initiative like that. I'm very grateful to him."

Palmere has been ready for moments like this for a while now. He was accepted to Brandeis through the Midyear Program, and made the most of his extra time between high school and college by undergoing EMT training in the summer after his senior year of high school. The course at Boston University was taught by Dan Saxe, a 2012 Brandeis graduate who was a BEMCo volunteer during his undergraduate days, who told Palmere about the organization.

After spending his midyear semester volunteering as an EMT outside Washington, D.C. in Maryland, one of the first things Palmere did when he arrived on campus was sign up for BEMCo.

"I immediately fell in love with it, I like the brief windows into people’s lives it offers, and I like helping people," Palmere said. "When someone calls 911 they aren't exactly having a good day, I like showing up and hopefully making their day a little bit better."

Palmere is continuing with his passion after graduation. He has enrolled in paramedic school, and he'd like to someday become a tactical medic, which is a paramedic attached to police SWAT teams. As a supervisor for BEMCo, he often spent over 80 hours per week on call. This didn’t leave room for many other college hobbies, but Palmere wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“There’s this strong sense of community with BEMCo,” Palmere said. “Not a whole lot of other people that can empathize with what you’re doing. We're a pretty tight knit family and we are each other's support system.”


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