Ivan Mazurkiewicz knows there will never be a typical day on his job. As a paramedic for Allina Health, he might be called to assist an older adult who’s taken a bad fall, before rushing to the home of someone else going into cardiac arrest.
But it’s children whose medical emergencies tend to weigh most heavily on his mind. So Mazurkiewicz, who became a paramedic in 2010, has found a way to lighten the emotional load for them.
For the past couple of years, Mazurkiewicz has been performing magic tricks for his youngest patients as a way to calm them down and make their ride to the hospital less stressful.
He coughs, and out of his mouth comes a deck of playing cards. His finger tips suddenly light up like neon. He opens his wallet and doesn’t seem to notice that it’s in flames.
All of his antics are followed by smiles — his and the kids’.
“I had this idea that, maybe if I learned a couple of coin tricks, I could do that for kids in the back of the ambulance,” Mazurkiewicz said. “I just thought it would be something fun for them so they’re not afraid of us.”
Mazurkiewicz, 33, lives in Scandia with his wife, Amber. With no kids of his own, he said he sees himself “as the crazy uncle.”
But the idea to bring magic to work came from a far heavier place.
Several years ago, Mazurkiewicz rushed to assist at a tragic call involving a 5-year-old boy. The boy died in his ambulance.
“It was the first time in my career that I felt completely powerless,” he said.
“We did what we could and, despite all that, he still died. I don’t think anybody wouldn’t be affected by it.”
Remembering the fear he saw on faces all around him, Mazurkiewicz decided he needed to develop a new strategy for working with kids.
“Kids like to jump around fire trucks. They like to crawl all over the back of police cars. But then you show them an ambulance and most go, ‘I don’t know about that,’ ” he said, shaking his head.
“I want to make it, not necessarily fun, but more relaxing.”
So Mazurkiewicz started taking magic lessons from popular Twin Cities magician Larry Kahlow, owner of Eagle Magic Store in Burnsville. Mazurkiewicz now has a full suitcase of tricks.
“I started doing more tricks on calls and realized I could actually use these to break through to kids,” he said.
Last fall, his partner, Joseph Odell, nominated him for Allina’s Commitment to Care award, given to people with an all-encompassing work ethic. He won. “Just watching Ivan interact with these people, it’s clear the award fits him.”
Odell added that it’s not just magic that demonstrates Mazurkiewicz’s ability to connect with patients. He’s also learned phrases in Somali to comfort those he meets as an emergency responder.
“He feels like when he at least says ‘hello’ in Somali, that makes them a bit more comfortable to talk about what’s going on,” Odell said.
Mazurkiewicz recalls how one magic trick, called “the lightning buggy,” helped a boy with autism who was struggling emotionally on a bus ride. “I eventually got him to sit with me on the bus,” he said. “I taught him the magic trick and he was happy again.”
Mazurkiewicz said it’s never been his intention to receive awards for his work, but it is an acknowledgment that his tricks do make a difference.
“Even the people I work with,” he said, “are noticing that there’s a benefit to doing this for patients.”