For U.S. Army veteran John Coriale, several experiences in Iraq in 2008—2009 prepared him for working in a pediatric hospital in ways that no classroom or fast-food experience ever could. As he recalls, there was a raid in Tikrit, Iraq, against insurgents who were being assisted by local families building and hurling bombs at U.S. soldiers. “A little girl, who looked about 11, was shot in the pelvis after attempting to pick up a grenade and throw it at our soldiers,” Coriale, now 35, explains. “She was taken to our hospital base where we cared for her long after the seven-day maximum-stay requirements for a combat-zone hospital.”
Coriale and his fellow medical personnel developed a strong affection for the girl, who turned out to be a very malnourished 15 year old who had lost several family members in the raid. In her three months with them, the team taught her to read through interpreters and eventually even taught her to ride a bike, all with great warmth and fondness. Coriale likes to think they made a difference in her life.
Combat experiences like Coriale’s can provide valuable experience for veterans that can’t easily be found on a resume. Coriale has even noticed specific training and communication techniques that he learned in the military expertly put to use as a patient care technician in the post anesthesia care unit (PACU) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital where he now works. He knows that the exact same personality type that enlists in the service to make a difference and help others also is knocking on hospital doors ready to offer that same expertise.
In fact, Johns Hopkins All Children’s visits MacDill Air Force Base quarterly for recruiting purposes and proudly holds an annual flag-raising ceremony in front of the hospital. Currently 62 known veterans work at the hospital, including Joe Conrod, director of human resources. “Honoring those who have served and continue to serve is part of our diversity and inclusion strategy,” Conrod points out. “It is who we are and what we stand for.”
Making a Difference, Finding a Future
It wasn’t just the Iraqi girl who affected Coriale during his time in the Army. He soon met a toddler in Iraq who had been crushed when a building collapsed. His team nursed the boy’s broken pelvis, arm and leg and it was then that Coriale realized in a whole new way how children experience a hospital stay—in or outside a war zone. “It had a strong impact on me. Kids aren’t in the hospital for something they’ve done wrong or brought on themselves the way adults can be,” explains Coriale, who grew up in St. Petersburg and has a 14-year old son and two younger daughters of his own.
“They are a product of their environment or their genetics. They are so helpless and they don’t have a say in what happens to them. It really affected me and, while I’d always known I wanted a career in health care, that experience led me right to pediatric health and I knew I wanted to be at Johns Hopkins All Children’s when I left the Army.”
Having his own children, at least one of whom has had surgery at Johns Hopkins All Children’s, has given him yet another perspective of children in a hospital environment. “From the Army view, you are a step removed emotionally, but you are part of that team experience of caring for sick and wounded people. From a father’s point of view, you understand the emotions of it and it makes you want to work harder for each child. From the clinical standpoint, I can actually see military techniques at work in situations like patient handoffs that help improve outcomes. I’m very proud of working here and of what I’ve done to get myself to this point.”
John knows it can be difficult for returning veterans to find work, so he appreciates that Johns Hopkins All Children’s gave him a chance so quickly. He hopes that his coworkers don’t concern themselves with stereotypes about veterans. “What we actually bring to the table is a problem-solving mentality and wanting to be part of something as important and vital as caring for children,” he says.
Coriale alternates between working with children as they come out of surgery in the PACU and as a firefighter/paramedic. “Many of the firefighters are not as used to working with children as I am, so I am able to bring some of my experience to that job as well,” Coriale explains. “But my goal is to remain at Johns Hopkins All Children’s long after I retire from firefighting. This is what I want to do.”
Coriale appreciates every moment he spends helping to heal children at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. He knows he isn’t alone here.
“I want to thank my fellow veterans on this Veteran’s Day for everything they’ve done for our country,” he says, “and for what they do every day to care for the children in our hospital.”