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Paul W. Ambrose

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On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, at 7:52 a.m., Dr. Paul Ambrose, senior clinical adviser for the Office of the Surgeon General in Washington, D.C., boarded American Airlines Flight 77 bound for Los Angeles. Thirty-five minutes into his flight, the plane passed over Huntington, W.Va., Paul’s beloved hometown, when hijackers overtook the cockpit and turned the plane east toward the nation’s capital. At 9:37 a.m. the plane crashed into the western side of the Pentagon, killing all 64 people on board as well as 125 workers at the United States Department of Defense. At the same time, thick black smoke was billowing across the clear blue skies of New York City after two commercial airplanes slammed into the towers of the World Trade Center. America would soon learn it was under attack, and the nation would never be the same again. Life would never be the same again for Ken and Sharon Ambrose, Paul’s parents, Bianca Angelino, his fiancée, or the hundreds of people who came to know and love the charismatic doctor who was just 32 years old when he perished. While his death was a tragic loss to those who knew him, it was also a devastating loss for the entire nation. A renowned leader, Paul Ambrose was a healer and a visionary whose life – which had already shown so much greatness – was destined for even more. The first thing people noticed when they met Paul Ambrose were his striking good looks. “My first impression of Paul was that he was ridiculously handsome,” noted Erin Fuller, who worked with Paul at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) in Washington, D.C. “But once you got to know him you saw what a great, interesting and fascinating guy he really was.” Chris Durso, editor of the AMSA magazine, recalled a similar first encounter with Paul over lunch. “I looked at this guy across the table from me, with his deep blue eyes and chiseled cheekbones and cool clothes, and I prepared to write him off,” Durso said. “By the end of the meal, after Paul had intelligently touched on his experiences hiking through South America, on the need for a more cogent public health infrastructure and on the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, I felt chagrined. As anyone who knew him can tell you, Paul was the real deal.” Indeed there was much more to Paul Ambrose than meets the eye. Incandescently brilliant, engaging, caring and driven, he was determined to make a difference in America and was well on his way to doing so. He had already garnered the attention of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop who took him under his wing and began mentoring him. Dr. Koop and many of his peers saw greatness in the young doctor from Huntington and predicted that Paul was destined to become, among other things, the youngest surgeon general in our nation’s history. He was born Paul Wesley Ambrose on Dec. 26, 1968. The second child of Ken and Sharon Ambrose, he was described by his parents and teachers as inquisitive and extremely outgoing. “He never knew a stranger,” said Sharon, who was the vice president and chief operating officer at St. Mary’s Medical Center when Paul died. “He was a very happy child, always smiling with those blue eyes.” His father Ken, a respected professor of sociology at Marshall University, described his son as adventurous and always willing to try new things. “At the age of 5, Paul climbed the ladder at a local pool on his own and leapt off the high dive,” Ken said. “That, in essence, was Paul.” He played numerous sports growing up, including Little League baseball with his older brother Scott. While Paul continued to love sports throughout his high school years, Scott was drawn to music and eventually formed his own band. “Paul was always so supportive of Scott,” Sharon said. “He’d invite his friends over to listen to Scott’s band play.” pulmonary embolism. Scott, who was just 31 at the time, left behind a wife and daughter as well as his parents and brother. as to Scott lost they warning, But in 1998, the Ambrose family was rocked when, without “He couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t quite 6 feet tall, and he worried about losing his hair one day. And believe it or not, he was insecure about the impact he was making. He never thought he was doing enough. He was always trying to reach more people and develop new ideas. He was always pushing himself to do more.” On September 10, the night before Paul was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles to attend a conference on youth obesity prevention, he made arrangements to take Bianca to dinner at Taberna Del Alabardero, the finest Spanish restaurant in Washington. “It was special because Paul loved Spain and we were planning to get married in Madrid,” Bianca said. “We had this magical dinner, never knowing it would be our last.” The next morning Paul awoke early to pack for his flight to Los Angeles. The last thing he said to his fiancée before boarding the plane was, “I don’t want to leave. I miss you already.” On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, America awoke to the news that a plane had accidentally crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower at 8:46 a.m. At first it was reported that it was a small plane, but when a second plane, this time a commercial airliner, slammed into the south tower just 17 minutes later, the nation knew it was under attack by terrorists. Ken and Sharon Ambrose were in the midst of what they thought was a typical morning when t “We received a phone call from Bianca, who told us that Paul had flown out of Dulles International Airport earlier in the morning, but she thought he was fine because his flight had left so early,” Sharon recalled. Moments later, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. When it was reported that the plane had originated from Dulles, Bianca grew nervous. She began calling Paul’s cell phone, but it kept going to voicemail. Shortly before noon, Sharon received a call at work that confirmed any parent’s worst fear – her son had been aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, and there were no survivors. “It was just hard to believe,” Sharon said. “Paul spent his entire life helping and befriending people. But there are people in the world just trying to destroy each other. Just seeing that was so unreal. You try to get through it day by day, but it’s not easy. When Scott passed away, people would say, ‘It’s not right when a child dies before the parents.’ And you think the worst has happened, and you try to recoup and pick up from there…”