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As I sat at my desk in the emergency department one morning at about 2 a.m., I heard a call over the radio. “Shasta Base, 833, code two traffic.”
I immediately recognized the distinctive voice of Ted Blankenheim, who sounded like he had just been awoken from a deep sleep half a second earlier. After the nurse acknowledged his existence, his report followed. “Forty-two-year-old male, back pain for one month, vitals stable, ETA 2 minutes.”
I laughed at the excessively short report from a drowsy Ted who seemed to be quite disinterested with his duties as a taxi driver in the middle of the night. Severe back pain can be an emergency, but this patient was not emergent.
At that time I knew Ted as a nurse who worked on the ambulance. I also knew him as a Republican who always had time to discuss politics with me when Obama was first running for office. That was back when I thought that liberals were always the good guys who spoke up for those who needed help and conservatives were the greedy bad guys. I’ve subsequently learned that there are good people and bad people throughout the political spectrum. Of course more of us on the left are good. The more that I have gotten to know Ted, the more I have realized what a kind heart he truly has. Even if he is a Republican.
Ted’s path that eventually led to our friendship began in 1974 when he joined the fire department at Old Shasta as a volunteer firefighter. He was also studying fire science at Shasta College at the time. This eventually led to seasonal employment and subsequently regular employment as he worked up the ranks, eventually working as a chief of the fire district. During this time, he became an emergency medical technician (EMT). As he continued his training, he worked as an EMT in the pre-hospital setting for Memorial Hospital while continuing to work for the fire department. To further his education he decided to become a paramedic and he was accepted into the program at Stanford. That year 135 people tested for the program, 35 were accepted, and 11 graduated as paramedics. When he graduated, nurses were staffing the life support ambulances in Shasta County. Ted then took a critical care course at Shasta College that was normally for nurses and eventually he was allowed to work as the first paramedic in Shasta County.
While working as a paramedic, Ted was not content remaining stagnant and he obtained a nursing degree. This was also while working two jobs as a paramedic and another part time job for the fire department. His career has taken him through working as a nurse in critical care, the emergency department, and still in the pre-hospital setting. Ironically, he was the first paramedic in the county and one of the last nurses in the pre-hospital setting. Eventually he was required to get his paramedic license to continue working on the ambulance. He now is back in the emergency department as a nurse who has to put up with me at Shasta Regional Medical Center.
If you ask any paramedics, EMTs, or emergency staff who have been around here for more than a few years, they have a story to tell about Ted. He has a loud, booming voice and he likes to talk. He is also not afraid to express his opinions. I even heard a story today about him at the scene of a seizure at Winchell’s donuts where his student was securing the patient while he ordered a jelly donut and a glazed donut.
Although Ted has served our community for a long time, his work with Bikes for Kids is where he now gets to do the most good. As my conversations with Ted usually go, when I asked him how he started with this endeavor, the story is circuitous. One day in 1983 he found himself without enough money to pay his tuition at Stanford. Having read books on blackjack, he went to Lake Tahoe and was able to make enough money to pay his tuition and enjoy a few steak dinners. He continued over the years to play blackjack periodically until eventually he was told by all of the casinos in Reno that he was no longer welcome there at the blackjack tables.
“I came home from that trip and I was sitting in here moping,” Ted explained while we sat in Starbucks on Eureka Way. “They had this gift box for foster kids and I’d been donating to it for a few years. I saw a guy wheel in with a brand new bike and I said, ‘That’s it, that’s what we all need.’ I remembered back when I was a kid and the four of us left at home all got brand new bikes for Christmas; and that was the best Christmas ever.”
He thought about it that night and had an idea. “Then I thought to myself, ‘I’m going back to Reno’ then I went back to Reno,” he continued to explain. “So I went back to Reno and I made a promise to God. I said, ‘If I win anything, Oh boy, bikes for kids.” He got lucky at Pai gow and left Reno with $7200 in winnings that he then used to buy teddy bears and bikes for children.
That was about 12 years ago.
“Since then, it’s like that promise to God kept me going every year,” he said.
Every year from that point on he devotes a huge amount of time during the month before Christmas in Starbucks getting donations of bicycles for the foster children of Shasta County.
Because of concerns about liability, only new bicycles can be donated. Last year he raised about 245 bicycles for foster children in our county, although his record was 272. This year he is hoping to break that record.
Ted devotes a large amount of time, energy, and much of his own money every year to give foster children a Christmas like the best one that he had as a child. When speaking with Ted about this, his enthusiasm and dedication are quite evident. As a man who has touched and saved many lives in Shasta County, this is what he is most passionate about.
I can only imagine the joy that a new bike brings to those who are struggling in the foster care system. For those who are older, the bicycles also serve as a manner of transportation to school and work, allowing them to contribute to our community.
I challenge each reader to donate at least one bicycle to this worthy cause led by a kind and dedicated man. Even if you don’t live in the area, just find Ted Blankenheim on Facebook; he receives many donations from out of the area as well.
If you happen to be in Starbucks on Eureka Way, you can shake the hand of the man who is the Forrest Gump of Shasta County.