As a teenager, Alexa Welch was so enamored of emergency vehicles that she urged her father to follow police sedans, fire engines and ambulances if their car was in the vicinity.
Now 19 and a sophomore for the Towson volleyball team, she acknowledged that she might have persuaded her father to do something “along the lines of being illegal,” but said that the interactions from afar cemented her desire to pursue a career in medicine.
“I’ve always been drawn to it,” Welch said. “I would watch TV, and I saw the medics on TV, and I saw how their jobs just looked so inspiring to me. They were just able to move so quickly in these chaotic situations, and not only were they able to help people and give them the medicine that they needed, but they were also able to calm people.”
Eugene Welch confirmed his daughter’s memory, recalling one time when they detoured about 15 miles from their route from a club tournament in Pittsburgh to the family’s home in Ellicott City to follow an ambulance. “She was always interested,” he said.
Alexa Welch, a Mount Hebron graduate, now finds herself occupying an ambulance instead of chasing one. She recently earned her certification as a provisional emergency medical technician (EMT) and has been working primarily for Butler Medical Transport. She intends to seek certification as a full-time EMT and a career as a physician assistant.
“I just can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” she said. “I definitely think I was led to be in the medical profession.”
William Rosenberg, chief operating officer for Butler Medical Transport, said that Welch has been a solid employee since joining the company May 19.
“She’s only been here a short time, and she barely finished her training, but she’s been reliable and dependable and very customer-centric,” he said. “She definitely seems mature. She’s certainly professional, and she doesn’t act like a 19-year-old.”
One catalyst in Welch’s passion was her mother, Kelli Jean Welch, an avid tennis player until she was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer. Alexa Welch, who juiced vegetables for her mother and occasionally stayed home from school to sit and talk with her, said she did not fully grasp her mother’s health, even convincing herself that her mother was on “a long vacation” when she died Feb. 22, 2014.
“I definitely got my strength from her,” she said, adding that her aunt Patricia Welch has filled the void. “She was the absolute strongest person I’ve ever met, and she just told me to stand up for myself and just be who I am. You need strength when you work in the medical profession.”
After his wife’s death, Eugene Welch admitted he worried about their daughter’s emotional state.
“She could have gone completely a different way,” he said. “But I think it shaped her in a good way. I think she watched it, and she saw her mom pray, and she saw things happen, and she’s a whole lot stronger because of it.”
Studying exercise science at Towson, Welch enrolled in an EMT training course in January. A typical day for her included beginning physical therapy to rehabilitate a torn right ACL at 7 a.m., lifting weights with her teammates, attending classes, and then driving to CCBC-Essex three times per week for the four-hour EMT course.
EMT instructor Stephanie Sloman said Welch was one of the youngest students in the class and usually sat in the front. Fears about the coronavirus pandemic trimmed the class size from almost 20 to six, but Welch did not miss a session.
“It’s a very big responsibility, and it’s a very demanding class,” Sloman said. “If you’re not going to take it seriously, you won’t be successful. It’s a lot of different information in a short period of time. She’s going to have the work ethic. She wants to learn it. She has goals for herself, and she’s going to do whatever she needs to do to get them accomplished.”
A member of the Essex Volunteer Fire Department, Welch has participated in a few ride-alongs for Butler Medical Transport. Wearing an N95 mask with a disposable mask on top, a face shield, goggles, multiple pairs of gloves and a gown, she estimates that she has helped move about a dozen patients to area hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.
Many of the patients tested positive for the coronavirus, and witnessing their plight hit home for Welch.
“Seeing these patients firsthand definitely emphasized the realness to me,” she said. “It’s just so unfortunate for all of these families to have family members that have this virus. But that’s why I’m here, to do whatever I can to help the process.”
Eugene Welch said his daughter takes great pains to prevent spreading COVID-19, disrobing in the garage of their home, throwing the clothes in the washing machine, and racing into the shower. He said she always wears a mask when visiting her paternal grandparents Glen and Sylvia Welch, and stays on one end of the front porch of their home in Essex while her grandparents sit on the other end.
Eugene Welch said he has no reservations about his daughter’s interactions with coronavirus-stricken patients.
“I’ve got confidence in her that she will protect herself,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with her doing it. She’s pretty smart.”
Tigers volleyball coach Don Metil, who went to the California Institute of Pennsylvania and took an EMT course to meet the requirements for a dual bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and secondary education, said Welch’s role as a defensive specialist should serve her well in the medical field.
“She has the ability to read and react, and when she is out in a triage-type situation and she has to make quick decisions, the skills she has learned on the court might benefit her out in the field,” he said. “She has perseverance and a big heart, she’s obviously very knowledgeable, and she has a good head on her shoulders.”
Welch said there are similarities between athletics and medicine.
“Being an EMT takes a lot of teamwork, and you have to work with your partner and the people in your ambulance to help the patient and communicate. And that’s big in volleyball, too,” she said. “You have to be on the same page when you’re working with a patient, and in volleyball, the whole team has to be on the same page in order to work as one well-oiled machine on the court.”
Eugene Welch, who played racquetball and golf before undergoing two knee replacement operations, said he is blessed to have a daughter like Alexa.
“She’s just an amazing young lady,” he said. “She’s not going to stop. She’s got me and her mother in her. We were both pretty good athletes, and we both worked hard to get where we were and where we are, and I think she’s got that in her. I don’t see her drive going away anytime soon.”