UNC School of Medicine Student Builds on Skills from Time Served as Green Beret Medic

March 7, 2017

Two-time Bronze Star recipient Curtis Carr is a student in UNC School of Medicine's Physician Assistant Program. The former Green Beret medic sees patients during clinic rotations at UNC Family Medicine, shadowing Dr. Tim Daaleman. Photo by Brian Strickland.

In September 2014, Curtis Carr was at home in Whispering Pines, North Carolina, on a break between U.S. Army Special Forces combat deployments in Afghanistan. His wife, Suzi, a nurse practitioner at Moore Family Medicine in nearby Carthage, was pregnant, about to give birth to their second son, Augustus.

As a Green Beret medic, or 18-Delta, it was unusual for Curtis to be home. Military commitments forced him to be away for so much of the three years he and Suzi had been married and the two years since they had had their first son, then-two-year-old Grayson.

“As a Special Forces guy, and with all the extra training I’d done as a medic and a dive-company member, I was home only a quarter of the year,” explains Curtis, a second-year student in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Physician Assistant Program and a member of the program’s inaugural class. “It was hard on all of us.”

Deployments were also dangerous for Curtis and his Special Forces unit. Deployments in Afghanistan included continuous conflict with Taliban forces in the mountain regions near Kabul. In total, he was involved in more than 120 firefights. His actions during these experiences and throughout his deployments earned him two Bronze Stars. Training and requalification for his military role, meanwhile, required him to take Special Forces combat diver and dive medical technician courses in Key West, Florida, and other locations. Every time he trained or requalified, he was one mistake away from an arterial gas embolism or decompression sickness, also known as the bends, and he could never rule out the possibility of an encounter with an ocean predator or the potential for unpredictable weather conditions while deep in seawater.

Yet, despite years of strenuous military commitments, he was present for the births of both of his sons.

“Being a father is the most important part of my life,” he says. “My father was there for me and my brother, so I understand how important it is to be around. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that support.”

That September, Augustus was delivered at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst. Hours after his birth, he was having trouble breathing. At 3 a.m., the situation seemed stable, so Curtis drove home to pick up a change of clothes. By the time he returned to the hospital, however, something was wrong.

“When I looked at Suzi I could tell there was an issue,” he remembers. “She was distraught.”

Augustus had been rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, because he was not breathing well on his own. He would spend the next week under close watch by NICU caregivers. The experience changed Curtis’s life.

“The providers allowed us to be there with him while they cared for him,” he recalls. “I’ve performed a lot of difficult trauma care in my life and prepared for a lot of challenging situations. Nothing prepared me for this. It scared the life out of me. Seeing my son like that was the moment I decided to change my career. I needed to do something that would keep me with my family.”

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