A second calling
After losing both of his legs above the knee in an IED blast during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2005, U.S. Army Special Forces medic Roland Paquette received a Purple Heart, underwent rehabilitation and took a government job.
But the same desire to serve that drew Paquette to join the military after 9/11 is what pulled him back to patient care. He enrolled at the Health Science Center and earned his master of physician assistant studies degree in 2012. Paquette is now a physician assistant in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Health Science Center and adjunct faculty in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies.
“I had felt that kind of bug before where I just needed to go do something,” he said. “I was feeling the same thing about getting back to patient care and doing medicine.”
Paquette, 37, said his own experience shapes the care he gives patients, but he is careful to keep the focus on them.
“At least once a day on a shift, when I see a patient who is experiencing pain or has experienced an injury or whose family seems more stressed out than others, I think I can empathize with that,” Paquette said.
His experience allows him to foster trust with patients that can be tough to build when medical professionals are sometimes viewed as adversaries.
“I’m not just somebody in a white coat on the other side of things,” Paquette said.
If people ask about his prosthetics, Paquette will share his story, when appropriate.
“What I don’t want to do is make someone feel like I’m minimizing what they are going through,” he said.
Sometimes patients or their families with whom he hasn’t shared any of his background will ask if he injured his back—something he takes as a compliment.
“I take it as a sign of success,” he said. “I don’t have any legs and this person thinks I may have hurt my back.”
His experience in physical and occupational rehabilitation enables him to give patients a sense of what to expect in their own journey. It is hard to accept limits on physical ability, and there are low points along the way, he said. What made a difference for him was having clear goals for his rehabilitation. He urges patients to focus on the “why” of recovery.
“It is hard, painful and very frustrating,” he said. “If you can, put it into a better context: Why is it you want to rehab? Why do you want this wound to get better? Why do you want to get more mobile?”
Aside from his clinical work, the father of three also trains first responders through a company he started last year. He also mentors soldiers through the nonprofit Green Beret Foundation, which his wife, Jennifer, heads as executive director. Recently, he served as the principal investigator on a study comparing the effectiveness of tourniquets to hemorrhaging clamps in massive extremity hemorrhages.
“I feel really satisfied with what I’m doing,” Paquette said. “I think you just keep swimming upstream and that’s what I’m doing. You just keep trying to work with what you’ve got.”