Print Page

Local EMT finds her calling later in life

Sue Copinga started working as an EMT in her 50s.
Copinga is surrounded by family and friends after accepting LifePoint's 2011 Companywide Mercy Award.

Sun Advocate reporter

Finding your calling in life can be a funny thing. For some people it just comes naturally at birth and is carried on all throughout life. But for others it can take years to find. The road to get there is often long and arduous, filled with twists and turns and bumps along the road, but all the more rewarding when the very thing being looked for is found. For Emery County resident Sue Copinga, it may have taken her awhile to find her life's work, but she can't imagine having everything happen any other way.

Copinga, 65, currently works as a patient advocate and EMT at Castleview Hospital. She didn't become an EMT until her 50s, finding her calling later in life. No matter to Copinga. She found what she loves to do and plans to work in the profession until she, well, can't do it anymore.

"When I get my own room at the mortuary is when I will finally be done with this job," she quipped.

Early life

Born in Glendale, Calif., Copinga had an upbringing like many other children whose parents are drawn to where the jobs are located. Her father worked as a uranium miner and when one job would close up shop, another job someplace else opened up. The family moved a number of times, almost every six months, according to Copinga. Each time they moved, the family would gather everything up and move to a new place. For Copinga, the moves brought about a sense of sadness mixed with a little excitement.

"I always hated having to leave a place," she said. "But I really loved arriving in a new place."

Moving around from place to place taught her to become outgoing. She also learned to grow friendships with many different people. For a period of time, Copinga lived on an Indian Reservation, learning about the culture along the way. While some of the time spent on the reservation was away from a large population of people, Copinga learned some lessons in life.

"I learned it was not so horrible to be by yourself," she said. "Sometimes having alone time is a good thing."

Eventually Copinga's family made its way to Utah, where she has been ever since.

Utah: Is it the place for me?

At first, Copinga was apprehensive about moving to Utah. Unsure about what the state would be like, she remembers looking back at the move as being a "culture shock". Fast forwarding to the current time, Copinga can only chuckle at her previous assumptions about Utah.

"It was a culture shock at first for me, but now I love it here," she said. "I don't know why anyone lives anywhere else."

Copinga eventually married her husband Menco, originally from Holland, in 1965. The two started a family, welcoming four children and one foster child into their family. It was becoming a mother that became the first calling in Copinga's life, something she always wanted.

"I wanted to be a mother from a young age, taking care of a family of my own," she explained.

Menco moved the family to Emery County as part of the work available on the power plants being constructed in the area. They eventually settled into a home on a 40-acre ranch in Elmo in 1975. While she was adjusted to Utah, it took a little while before Copinga became acclimated to Elmo.

"I kept thinking that my husband moved me to the ends of the Earth," Copinga said of Elmo. "I never dreamed at first that we would be here for this long."

The closeness of the town became evident when Copinga and Menco would leave the town for surgeries he needed upstate. Because the whole family could not make the trip, other members in the community watched over the children while they were gone. Copinga didn't worry about being away from the family for a few days. She knew the family was well-taken care by during their time away from home.

Menco, the love of Copinga's life, was an interesting man to say the least. When describing his traits, Copinga holds nothing back. He was hard-headed, tempered and a grouchy man to say the least, she says. Employees who worked with Menco even went so far as to ask her how she could have been married to him for so long. Copinga laughed it off as just Menco being himself.

Menco's soft heart and strong personality may have hidden what was to come years later. In 2001, Menco was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Copinga said Menco never complained about anything wrong with him. He dealt with indigestion and had stomach pains here and there, but it never prevented him from being the active person he was always known to be.

Ten days after visiting the doctor and being diagnosed with cancer, he passed away.

While Menco may have been seen as rough around the edges around others, it may have all been a cover up, Copinga said.

"He (Menco) was a very giving person," she said. "They (his traits) were pretty much a cover up for the soft heart he had."

Following the dream

While she stayed very involved with her children, Copinga wanted to do something else with her life. Always interested and intrigued by medicine, Copinga took an EMT class as a fluke. A friend encouraged her to get involved and the rest was history.

Starting out in her 50s was a unique experience, having to prove to those around her that this was something she was dedicated to doing. Copinga admits she had to constantly beg Sgt. Martin Wilson, who oversaw Emery County's ambulance, in the hopes of getting a job as a paid volunteer. After months of begging, her persistence paid off.

"I promised him (Wilson) that I would work hard and be sure to make him proud of me," she said.

Being an EMT and working in the emergency room as a patient advocate, have never been easy jobs to undertake. Taking one's emotions and putting them in a jar on a shelf away from everything is just one of the traits Copinga had to learn on the job.

One moment she remembers in particular was while working at the hospital. She remembers spending time with a family whose son was brought to the hospital and the diagnosis was not good. The child was not given much of a chance to survive. Copinga met with the family and spent time as they prayed together hoping for their son to pull through. The boy later passed away.

"It was an extremely powerful moment," Copinga said as tears rolled down her cheeks when recalling the moment.

Not everything involved with the job is like what is portrayed on television or in movies, she explained. While many patients may come into the hospital with gruesome injuries and losing pints of blood everywhere, there are harder parts to the job.

"The emotional toll things can take are the hardest, not the blood and guts," she said.

Recalling Crandall Canyon

Copinga worked as an EMT during the Crandall Canyon Mine incident. She along with the rest of the EMT crew worked in 24-hour shifts during the incident, waiting to respond if they were called to do so.

That moment eventually came as a miner notified everyone about another cave-in at the mine.

Copinga remembers the distinct feelings she experienced moments after the call came in about a cave-in at the mine.

"I immediately got an adrenaline rush after the call," she said. "Everything seemed to be going so quickly around me."

She prepared for anything to happen and just wanted to do whatever she could to help out. She was given everything needed to go down into the mine and a group, including Copinga, headed down near the cave-in.

First entering the mine, Copinga remembers the wood structure holding up the walls. Even with everything happening so fast around her, she took a few moments and wondered how the structure would hold up the weight of a mountain. It was all new to her, but she quickly remembered she was in there for a reason.

Her group eventually rushed a miner out of the mine and brought him out to safety. She was there at the hospital when the miner's wife was awaiting word of his condition. Copinga remembers seeing the relief overcome the woman after hearing her husband was fine. She helped reunite the two a short time later.

While she played a role during the disaster, Copinga doesn't want to embellish her part in helping out.

"I just happened to be there at that time," she said. Copinga said her fellow EMT's would have done the same thing if she wasn't on the clock at the moment of the cave-in.

Living her dream

Copinga now spends most of her time working in the emergency room as a patient advocate. Checking up with patients in the hospital and following up with patients who were discharged, holding the hand of a patient and gently rocking a baby are just some of the things she does regularly. They are some of the reasons she is affectionately known by co-workers and patients as "Grandma Sue".

"Whatever I'm qualified to do, I try to help relieve the stress of the doctors and nurses," she said.

Copinga also gives back by helping teach EMT classes now. She teaches specific points she picked up over the years to the students including learning to work as a crew together, continuing education, having compassion for others and learning to be non-judgmental.

Copinga's hard work has not gone unrecognized by her co-workers and close friends. She was nominated and chosen to receive the Countrywide Mercy Award from LifePoint, which runs Castleview Hospital, and 49 other hospitals around the country. LifePoint recognized those at their hospitals around the country who best exemplify the spirit and values upon which the company was founded. Copinga will travel to San Francisco, Calif., this month where she will be honored at a ceremony during LifePoint's Senior Leadership Retreat.

She heard about the Mercy Award a few weeks ago and didn't have a clue she was going to be chosen for it. Her family secretly came to the presentation but kept it from her. Hearing about the nomination letters from her co-noneworkers and friends was a special moment, Copinga said.

"It was very heartwarming to see those letters," she said.

Receiving the Mercy Award is just one of the many reasons why Copinga enjoys working in the hospital. After searching for something to do with her life after raising a family, she found work helping others and took off with it. And she hasn't looked back since.

"I had no idea I would love it this much. I thought this would be another hobby in my life, but it's not," she said. "This job is so much fun and it just doesn't feel like work to me."

Print Page