BATON ROUGE — By the time she turned 40, Carey Long had already beaten cancer. So, it's understandable that she'd want to help others facing death.
The path the stay-at-home mom chose for her first career, however, is far from typical. It surprised even herself.
Long became an emergency medical technician with Acadian Ambulance in early 2017, making her the company's oldest rookie EMT. Now 42, she spends her days answering calls at car wrecks, homes and crime scenes.
"It definitely would be safe to say somebody starting out 40 and above in an EMS career is not your norm, at least not in this area," said Justin Cox, Acadian operations manager in Baton Rouge.
Age isn't the only remarkable part of Long's journey.
Carey Braud grew up in East Baton Rouge Parish and married Richy Long in 1996. Their son, Ethan, was born in October 1998. Only two weeks later, doctors discovered she had an extremely rare liver cancer.
"At the time, my doctor had told me . there's only ever been two other cases of a pregnant woman with this, and they were on the other side of the world," Long said. "There weren't even numbers to say you're one in a million."
Two weeks after that, the 23-year-old Long had surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas to remove the tumor and part of her liver. Over the next five years, cancer returned to other organs, necessitating surgeries for a hysterectomy and to take out her gall bladder, appendix and parts of her large and small intestines.
"If I don't really need it, I don't have it," Long said. "I hit my lifetime maximum on several chemotherapy drugs. So, basically, I have problems or complaints of someone who should be in their 70s, but I go on."
By the time Ethan entered his senior year of high school in 2016, she was already considering career choices. As she searched for options in medicine, she kept finding opportunities to train as an EMT or paramedic.
The more she saw the EMT option, the more it seemed to Long that God might be nudging her in this direction. She signed up for training.
"This is not a job I ever thought I'd have or that I was even searching out," Long said. "I've just kind of had to trust that I might be better equipped for this than I ever thought I was."
She completed the training and received her EMT certification, which included a physical.
Long had become a runner after winning her battle with cancer, and, though petite, developed the strength to lift the required weight she might encounter loading people onto stretchers and into ambulances.
She works out of Acadian's Donaldsonville location, where the company serves as a local 911 first responder. In a typical 12-hour shift, there might be five to 10 calls to transport patients, she said. Each one creates an adrenaline surge. None is exactly alike.
"It's not an easy job," Cox said. "It's dangerous, plain and simple. It's not an easy job because you're subjected to the risk of being out in traffic, the elements, bad weather, going into a home. The cops go in with a bulletproof vest and guns. We're going in with a medic bag, and a lot of times people can't tell the difference between a paramedic uniform and a police uniform.
"She's doing fine. . She's adapted real well as an employee. It seems like she's been doing her job since she's been younger."
Long said what happened to her when she was younger may explain why. In addition to everything else, EMS employees inevitably deal with death. It's a subject she knows.
"We do what we can," she said. "Most of the time, we're only going to be able to make the situation better. Sometimes we get there too late or we're called too late, and that's totally out of our control. I try not to take that personally or emotionally because, at such a young age, I had to deal with my own mortality with a newborn. I just kind of have a different view of death and acceptance and realization."
The job has its rewards, such as seeing the relief of those the EMTs are able to reassure or learning that someone they took to the hospital recovered. Long is training to earn her paramedic certification, which will enable her to perform a greater range of lifesaving procedures.
It's not where Long expected to be, but she is happy she's here.
"I've had to accept so many things that have happened to me or to friends or other loved ones," she said. "Somebody out there has to deal with this. Somebody has to go respond to these calls. Whether I know it or not, I might just be that person, and I have to accept that I was called to do this."