Friends, family remember Rutgers student killed on EMT call
When Hinal Patel was not accepted into the Physician Assistant school where she was hoping to go, she was not disappointed like one would expect.
“She was like, ‘Well, I didn’t get into PA school, I guess I’ll study for my MCAT and then go to medical school instead. If I can’t become a PA, I’ll become a doctor,’” said Bianca Patel, one of her best friends and a rising third-year student in the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy.
Patel, who would have started graduate school at the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Newark this summer, died on July 25 during one of her final EMT calls, according to nj.com. A Toyota Prius hit her ambulance as it was going through an intersection in East Brunswick, killing the 22-year-old.
Though Bianca said Patel was one of her most dedicated, hard-working friends when it came to school, she still never missed a birthday party or failed go on adventures with her friends — whether that be a spring break trip to the Poconos, hiking or trying out a new restaurant.
Her dedication, adventurous spirit and passion for the medical field led her to a one-week “Global Medical Brigade” trip to Honduras last August, Bianca said.
Bianca and Patel traveled to Honduras together for what ended up being a life-changing experience for Patel.
“It made her realize how many things we take for granted,” Bianca said. “The people there didn’t have access to medical needs and they were always happy … whatever problems they had, they didn’t let them show.”
Bianca said Patel was the same way.
“She didn't want to worry anybody. If she was feeling sad or stressed out or she was sick, she never let it show,” she said. “She was always smiling. She didn't want to burden others with her pain. Even if she was sad, she still wanted to make other people happy around her.”
Margi Shah, a student in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, became friends with Patel back in elementary school when Shah approached her at the bus stop — an encounter Patel would always recall as “awkward.”
But since then, the girls maintained a sisterly relationship, bickering every so often but never getting into anything serious, Shah said.
Because they lived in the same neighborhood, they would meet up often, Shah said. Whether it was the beach for Margi’s 18th birthday (when they got lost on their way to Seaside and ended up somewhere else), Hoboken for New Year’s Eve or just hanging out, they didn’t need to be on an adventure to enjoy each other’s company.
“We may not have been the most exciting kids around but obviously our parents loved us for that exact reason and that’s because our idea of fun was honestly just going to each other’s houses and staying in our rooms and just talking about girl stuff,” she said.
Patel was persistent, soft-spoken and patient, Shah said.
Patel once demonstrated her unwavering patience when Shah sang the entirety of Rihanna’s “Unfaithful” to Patel over the phone, “and I do not have a pretty voice at all,” she said. Instead of cutting her off, Patel let her finish the performance.
Patel possessed a love of everyone and though Shah was a year older, she felt that Patel was the wiser of the two.
“I don’t know where she got all of this wisdom from, but it was great and I knew that I could count on her,” Shah said, adding that Patel helped her through breakups, surgery and when she’d be annoyed with her parents.
Neel Patel, Hinal’s brother and a rising sophomore in the School of Engineering, described his sister as “fun-loving” and said she was always looking after him.
In addition to helping him map out his engineering classes two years in advance, Neel said his sister motivated him to want to pursue both a master’s degree in engineering and a Master of Business Administration.
Patel actually read the engineering handbook in order to guide her brother’s future, before Neel even knew the handbook existed, he said.
“Now that she’s gone I can actually see how much she taught me, how independent I’ve become because of her,” he said. “She taught me to be self-reliant. From now on I’m going to be more independent and use the things she taught me.”
Patel also taught her brother to become self-reliant in the kitchen. Though she loved to cook and often found inspiration on the Food Network, she stopped cooking for him in favor of teaching him to cook for himself.
Neel said he now wants to learn to cook because he knows having the skill is something that would make his sister happy.
As kids, they would get on each other’s nerves like any sibling pair, he said. Neel used to throw things off of the balcony outside their home just to make her pick them up.
“We never explicitly said we loved each other, but you could always tell between us. There was never a time we’d fight and not make up,” he said. “Things would always go back to normal within hours.”
Similar to the way Patel inspired her brother to strive for independence and excellence, she also pushed squad partner and friend, Brian Kenney, to be his best.
Kenney was one of the first to meet Patel when she first joined the North Stelton Volunteer Fire Company. Though quiet at first, she quickly became comfortable and started cracking jokes.
When the two became squad partners, Kenney noticed that she was “extremely intelligent” and one of the best on the squad.
“The more intense the call got, the more relaxed she got,” he said. “She was always calm, cool and collected … she never broke a sweat or batted an eye, she was always up for the challenge.”
Kenney was taking a semester off when he met Patel, but she quickly changed that.
“She got my ass back in gear, back in school,” he said. Every day she would ask him if he picked out a schedule of classes yet, and once he decided to study accounting, she’d bring him to the library and make sure he didn’t dare check his phone.
“She stayed on me and I stayed with it and these are actually probably some of the best grades I've gotten since middle school,” Kenney said.
Patel put her friends before herself and was always pushing them to reach their potential.
“I’m going to get my masters in two and a half years,” Kenney said. “And she did that for me ... She had the highest expectations of me and it’s now my duty to live up to that so when I see her in my next life, she’ll be proud of me, you know?”
Kenney was not the only person Patel inspired to go back to school. Jerry Toto trained her when she first joined the North Stelton squad, and said she was diligent and always willing to learn more.
Toto dropped out of college and was stuck making an EMT’s salary, but in the wake of Patel’s death and inspired by her huge ambitions, he’s looking into taking classes toward an engineering degree.
Toto said EMTs often become burnt out as they deal with so many non-emergency situations, but never Patel.
“She was a more unique type of EMT than I had ever seen before because not only did she do what she had to do to provide first aid to the patient … she went the extra mile,” he said. “She would hold their hand and talk to them and stay with them to give them that comfort.”
When there was a 3 a.m. call and Toto arrived tired and disheveled, Patel was the opposite.
“Hinal would just show up with a smiling face, bright and ready,” he said. “Perfect uniform, perfect hair like she just got ready for the past hour for this call.”
Karishma Patel, a rising Rutgers Business School junior and Hinal’s cousin, said in an email that Hinal was always getting her to try new foods or visit new places.
One July 4th weekend when the girls were growing up, they went to the beach and someone accidentally hit Hinal in the head with a beach ball, Karishma said. When asked if she was okay, Patel could not stop laughing.
“That was the kind of person she was and always will be — happy,” she said. “Hinal lived to help people and better herself from those experiences. I can only hope to be the best version of myself the way she was."
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