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Retired Navy corpsman to graduate from UC nursing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After 22 years of military service and four tours in Iraq, University of Charleston student Jeff Patrick is moving on to a new adventure this summer.

The 43-year-old Scott Depot resident, a cancer survivor and father of six, will graduate Sunday with a bachelor's degree in nursing and begin a career as an emergency room nurse at CAMC Memorial in July.

Patrick is one of the nominee's for UC's Senior of the Year, which will be announced at graduation.

"Nursing is, to me, the greatest profession," said Patrick, a retired U.S. Navy corpsman, "because you get to spend time with patients."

There's a connection between nurses and their patients that doctors don't share, he said.

"When [patients] are crying in pain in the middle of the night," he said, "the nurse is the one by their side, not the doctors."

Patrick, originally of Columbus, Ohio, joined the military for the opportunity for school assistance. He stayed and earned two degrees -- an associate's degree in biology and a bachelor's degree in psychology -- while on active duty, he said.

During his time in the military, he served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, he said.

"It was like going to work and coming home seven months later and people are shooting at you the whole time you're there," Patrick said of his service in Iraq.

He also served as an instructor and administrator at the Hospital Corps School and as a member of the Navy Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team (SPRINT), he said.

As a psychiatric technician, Patrick and the rest of SPRINT did crisis interventions where a suicide or other traumatic incident had occurred.

It was a job that required him to hear all the "gory details" about each incident. Patrick said it also gave him an appreciation for what other people have gone through.

"A lot of people keep things bottled up for a long time," he said, "and I don't know that it's always healthy."

While Patrick has accomplished a lot professionally, he said his greatest accomplishment has been raising successful children. He is the father and stepfather of six children who range in age from 8 to 17 years old.

In addition to his wife's two children and his two children, the couple also has two adopted children.

He adopted the two after a homeless man knocked on the door of his neighbor's Norfolk, Va., home and asked the man to watch his son for a while, he said. The neighbor relayed the story to Patrick. It didn't sit well with him, so he searched for the man, Patrick said.

He eventually got joint custody of Cody, now 9.

"So they were still homeless and kind of floating around everywhere," he said. "The problem was, they never came back to see him, so we, for like $65 for filing fees, ended up getting joint custody of him."

When Cody's mother got pregnant again a year later, he adopted the boy's sister, Faith, too.

"Cody and Faith [are the] best thing that's ever happened to me," Patrick said. "So many people have kids and they don't appreciate them, but they really are the treasure of life."

Patrick and his wife, Tara, moved to Putnam County in 2010 after he retired from the Navy.

He was introduced to West Virginia while traveling through from Norfolk to Columbus.

"Every time we drove through West Virginia, the people were so nice," he said. "Look at the geography here, it's so beautiful."

So when he retired, Putnam County is where the family decided to look for a home.

"I'm very fortunate that I got to pick the best place in the world where I wanted to live," Patrick said, "and this is right where it is."

It was also in 2010 that he was diagnosed with cancer. He found out while having a physical exam when he retired. He says, though, that he has been cancer free for nearly three years.

Patrick said he looks forward to working in the emergency room at Memorial and treating different types of people than he did as corpsman with the Navy. Most of the patients there were young and healthy, he said.

After 22 years with the military, he's also looking forward to treating cases that are not trauma, he said.

Patrick said he eventually wants to work with veterans who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder. He wants to fight against the negative stereotypes of veterans with PTSD, he said.

Veterans often are dealing with normal feelings to abnormal situations, he said.

Patrick said he's grateful for the reception he got from fellow Americans after his service.

"I think America is doing an excellent job of recognizing the sacrifice of veterans," he said. "It hasn't always. My heart goes out to vets who didn't have that.

"We can't forget that all veterans are veterans, not just the CNN headline vets."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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