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Trial by fire: Andrew Colburn’s first taste of the island was right after Hurricane Ian

By Sheila Evans, Boca Beacon

Reprinted with permission

Andrew Colburn started his new job at the Boca Grande Health Center on the Monday of the week Hurricane Ian hit the island. It was quite a welcome.

The storm hit on Wednesday and on Thursday Andrew called clinic CEO Mark Driscoll to see what he should do about coming in.

Mark gave him the option of staying home and tending to his own family or coming in and helping to clean up the [Boca Grande] Health Center and get it back in operation. Mark was not too surprised that Andrew did not hesitate, coming to the island and immediately getting to work clearing tree limbs, cleaning rooms and getting the x-ray machine back in operation. Mark had the impression Andrew was a man who looked out for others, and Andrew did not disappoint.

“I was more than happy to come in and start my job here,” he said. “It was a different way of starting a job … a unique way … but I was happy to do it.”

That image of dedication and community concern is one that more and more people have been seeing for themselves in the Health Center’s new radiologic technologist.

Andrew comes with an interesting background that makes him a perfect addition to the Health Center’s staff.

He lives in Deep Creek with his wife Joanna and his 13-year-old daughter, Samantha. He has worked at both Port Charlotte hospitals and does not mind the increased travel time to his new position in Boca Grande. That is because this is where he feels perfectly at home. “It’s a beautiful place to come work. You walk outside and you see it all,” he mused.

The beauty of the island is not the only reason Andrew feels so good about working in Boca Grande, though. “It is also more personable with the patients here,” he said.

When he worked in the typical hospital setting, he felt it was more of “a numbers game,” he said. “You are treating each patient, but without a personal relationship or getting to know them.” It works very differently in Boca Grande.

“And that’s what I like here,” he said. “You get to know the people. You get to have a relationship with them. Here, it’s more personable; it’s one-on-one interaction with the patients, and then you get to see them down the road when they come back in and you get to see how they are doing.

That’s what I love about it – it’s so much more personable.”

He was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minn., and joined the Air Force out of high school, in 1993. He entered the military to learn a trade and found a vocation while he was at it. The Air Force taught him all aspects of radiology tech work and made it possible for him to earn his certifications.

He was stationed in several places during his career, including Texas, Mississippi and Florida. In Mississippi he got an additional reward. “I met my future wife there,” he declared.

They married while still in Mississippi.

When they met, Joanna was also training for x-ray work, and was just a little behind him in the courses. “I saw her and fell in love. And it’s been great ever since,” he said.

Their last six months of service were at McDill Air Force Base, in Tampa. Joanna left the service about six months before Andrew but stayed on as a civilian contractor. When Andrew’s military commitment was up, they decided to move back to Minnesota.

“I loved the Air Force. It was great,” he noted. “The training in the service is great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

I didn’t have to pay a thing for my education, which was great, and I see these kids coming out now with $30,000 to $40,000 to go to x-ray school, and I just had to do five years. And they trained me fully and I got my registry. The military was a great experience for me – plus I met my wife! Which was even bigger. It worked out great.” In the 27 years Andrew has been in practice, he has done everything from CAT scans, to MRIs, regular x-rays, overnights and more.

Moving back to Minnesota did not prove to be as successful as the couple anticipated. “It was too cold!” Andrew insisted. They started thinking about returning to Florida and a unique opportunity became available. A good friend of Andrew’s had moved to Florida and had secured a job at the Coral Creek Golf Club. The club was looking for additional help.

“I love to play golf,” he said, and had dreams of being a golf professional. “Golf is my passion.” So he told his wife he was going to apply for the position as assistant golf pro.

He related that Joanna was not in favor of the idea at first.

“You’re gonna do what?!” was the direct quote he shared of her reaction. Finally, though, she relented and acknowledged that it would fulfill his dream, so she gave her blessing. He landed the job and they moved to Southwest Florida, to the Punta Gorda area. While working full time as assistant golf pro he also worked part time at the hospital as a CAT scan tech.

Andrew with wife Joanna and daughter Samantha in the middle.

The golfer’s dream job lasted from 2000 to 2009 – a pretty good run. But then another dream took its place. Joanna got pregnant in 2008. He quoted her again: “Now it’s time to get real; have a real job. No more playing.” So Andrew resumed his medical career, and not long after, Samantha was born.

Andrew’s friend still works at Coral Creek. “I get out to play there every once in a while,” he said. “I love it there. The people are great. Many members at Coral Creek are from Boca Grande, so I got to know them over those nine years, and I see them come in all the time and we talk about Coral Creek. It is a nice connection.”

Nice connection, indeed. In fact, this connection played a part in Andrew coming to the Boca Grande Health Center. Daughter Samantha is a talented volleyball player. She is often in tournaments throughout the state and plays on a traveling team. Andrew practices with her nearly every day, and both Andrew and Joanna go to almost every game, which means traveling many weekends during the sport’s season.

“At the hospital, I was on call a lot, or having to work some weekends, so I started looking for something where I would not have to work weekends or ‘pull call,’” he said. He wanted something with a set schedule – Monday through Friday. “It would be better for all of us, if I could get that time – weekends off – to go travel and watch her play volleyball.”

He heard about the opening at the [Boca Grande] Health Center. “I know a lot of people on the island just from working at Coral Creek. And I have relationships with people out here. I know what kind of good people they are,” he recalled. “So I called some of them and they said they would talk to Mark. I came in and interviewed and got the job. So it worked out great!” He went on, “I am very excited to be here. The three doctors we have are great people, as are all the staff … the nurses and everybody. So, I’m just very happy to be here. Everyone’s very welcoming, and I seem to fit in just fine. It’s been great,” he said.

“Now I’m here at Boca Grande again. It’s come full circle. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do this, but I love it.” He is also delighted that another part of his past has circled back around. “When I first started at Fawcett, in 2000, Dr. James was an ER doctor there. That has come full circle, as well. It blows my mind, but it’s great to work with him again,” he said.

“I am very appreciative to be here and I am looking forward to expanding what we can do here for the people on the island and their healthcare,” he said. “And that’s the important thing, you know, making sure we can provide the best service and have the best technology we can. I think we’re moving in that direction,” he said.

“You can see the staff is quite a bit larger than it used to be in past years,” he noted. “We are really trying to expand the radiology program here. We didn’t have a tech here for a little over a year, when the last tech retired, and what we are envisioning now is expanding all aspects of the clinic and what we can do.” As far as radiology goes, he said he currently is taking regular x-rays, but in the near future, there is anticipation an ultrasound machine will be added. “That’s a big thing that Dr. James would like to get going,” he said. Both Andrew and Dr. James will be attending an upcoming ultrasound conference in St. Petersburg where hands-on training will be available.

“Hopefully, ultrasound will be on board for next year,” he said. “And then, with the clinic expanding, we’re going to get a CAT scan down the road, as well.” He said the broader base of radiology will allow patients on the island to obtain quicker diagnoses, since they will not have to go off island to get such care.

The ultrasound machine will allow for maternity care, but also for gall bladder issues, heart issues and other medical conditions. He said diagnoses can be made more quickly, eliminating the delay caused by having to secure an appointment with an imaging center, waiting for results and getting back into the clinic. “That’s a huge difference for the people who live out here, and for the clinic,” he said, adding, “The health care is just getting better and better on the island. It’s a great benefit to the community.”

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