No Regrets part 3: The importance of support
Maj. (Dr.) Jeffrey Woolford, Air Force Institute of Technology student, goes over medical patient-information with a technician at the Spangdahlem Air Base medical clinic Oct. 23, 2012. While stationed at Spangdahlem, Woolford was an A-10 pilot and flight doctor assigned to the 81st Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
2/4/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Editor's note: This part three of a six part series about the obstacles U.S. Air Force Maj. Jeffrey and his wife Nicole faced, and how the Air Force helped him persevere to his highest potential.
She wasn't shocked when her husband told her he was going to medical school.
This wasn't the first time Woolford told Nicole, his Canadian-born wife of 17 years, of this possibility. It also wasn't the only dream he told her about.
"On our very first date -- he was a crew chief then-- he told me two of things he wanted to do," recalls Nicole, nodding and smiling at the memory. "He told me he wanted to be a pilot and a doctor, and do both because he met someone along the way who was a pilot and a doctor. He was very impressed by that. So that was his goal--that's what he wanted to do.
At first I thought maybe he is trying to impress me or maybe it was a pick-up line, but things started to progress. We got married and then it was pilot training and then medical school. He was serious; he was really serious."
For her, it was tough, especially when he was gone. While he was in medical school to become a pilot-physician, she only saw him on the weekends.
"Some weekends he wouldn't come home because he was either on rotation or on-call, so we did that for almost five years ... our house was a good hour and a half away from medical school," she said. "So that was an effort on both our parts. I could have put my foot down and said 'well no, I am absolutely not going to do this, but the one thing I caught onto really quickly, even before we were married, was if he succeeds we succeed as a family. No matter how hard things are, if he does good, we do good."
He completed his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology at the University of Maryland and earned his medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of Health and Sciences School of Medicine. To this day, he is convinced it wouldn't have happened without his wife's support. She didn't just support him in the traditional sense of patting him on the back and making sure he ate, but she sacrificed for him.
"I am convinced that I would not have become a pilot and a doctor if I had not met Nicole," he said. "She shared my dreams. For her to say 'Okay, I'm going to marry an American, become a citizen, change my primary language to marry a very ambitious person, move with him around the world, support his decision to volunteer for a one-year tour to Korea because he feels it's his duty, to share in the vision of what's important...' (it) shows how much of a team player she is. She recognizes my ambitions and my reasons for doing it."
Woolford recalls how Nicole supported him throughout the years. She never asked for him to take a break from studying for her or complained about the days they spent apart; instead, she stuck by his side as he worked toward each goal. She even made sure he was eating when meals were the last thing on his mind.
"He could go a whole day without even eating a meal, so getting married for Jeff has had a few perks," she said jokingly. "When I married him, I knew sometimes things would be hard and it's not easy. But we do the best we can for each other. I see what he does every day and just think, 'being supportive is the least I can do.'"
That support and Woolford's dedication lead him to earn his flight surgeon wings as a pilot physician in 2008.
"He has done everything and more than what he said he was going to do," Nicole grinned, her eyes wide and her expression relaxed. "When we got married, he had this all mapped out and he has done every single thing, including starting his own company."
After earning the pilot-physician title, Woolford took what he learned from medical school and job experience to build his own company, all while still serving his country.
"I thought if I could reverse my responsibilities in the Air Force, which as a pilot-physician is to take everything I know about medicine to make flying safer," he said. "If I flip that, the mirror image is to take everything I know about flying to make medicine safer. I thought, if I did that then I could reduce preventable injuries and even death."
Preventing those things is exactly what his company Parallax Enterprises LLC sets out to do. Parallax's purpose is to make checklists for operating rooms that ensure the safety of patients and enhance accountability of surgical teams.
To this day, Nicole continues to support him through it all.
"My wife gets the credit for the complete stabilization of everything going on at home," he said. "It would be naive to believe I could do this all by myself. It's quick and simple to give credit to the person in the front, but it is really a mistake to assume that person did it on their own."
Later Woolford needed his wife more than ever as tragedy continually blindsided his family and nearly derailed his ambitions. For Woolford, it was a hellacious fire that nearly made him quit the entire prospect of medicine.