First on crash scene, 17-year-old Hialeah student helped save life of injured Miami-Dade officer

 
BY KYRA GURNEY
 

High school senior Thalia Rodriguez was driving down Interstate 75 on Sunday morning on her way to do a ridealong at a Hialeah fire station when she saw a man bleeding along the roadside next to a crashed motorcycle.

The 17-year-old Westland Hialeah Senior High student pulled over and jumped out of the car. As she rushed over to the man, Rodriguez’s first responder training from her high school health science classes kicked in.

“I knew I couldn’t panic,” she said. “At that point it was only him, only save him, buy him time. Everything else in such a scenario is all a blur except for what you’re focused on.”

Rodriguez took the man’s pulse and checked his breathing. She could see that he was bleeding profusely and had lost his left leg and that his right leg was almost completely gone. Rodriguez tried to talk to the man, but he was unable to respond. For the first 10 minutes he merely looked around, eyes wide open. 

Another driver, who happened to be a nurse, pulled over to help. That’s when Rodriguez made a difficult, split-second decision that has since been credited with saving the man’s life: she decided to apply a tourniquet. Rodriguez asked the nurse for help and the nurse got a belt from her car. Then Rodriguez and the nurse put the tourniquet on the man’s leg to stop the bleeding. 

“From there, all we could do was wait until the medical service got there,” Rodriguez said.

What Rodriguez didn’t know at the time was that the man whose life she was saving was an off-duty Miami-Dade police major named Ricky Carter. It wasn’t until later, after firefighters arrived on the scene and Carter was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, that Rodriguez learned the man was a 21-year veteran police officer. 

The firefighters at the City of Hialeah Fire Department were so impressed with Rodriguez’s quick thinking and first aid skills that they contacted her emergency medical responder teacher at Westland Hialeah, retired City of Hialeah Fire Department Lieutenant Luis Espinosa. Rodriguez is enrolled in her school’s health sciences magnet program and is also a City of Hialeah fire cadet.

“It’s rather difficult to be 17 and comfort a grown man during a time like that,” Espinosa said. “I was rather impressed with the first aid skills, of course, but I was more impressed with her grace under pressure.”

Espinosa said applying a tourniquet is a difficult decision because it can cause the patient to lose their limb. But in this case, he said, Rodriguez made the right call. “In all honesty in that scenario the most trained cardiac surgeon in the field would have done the same thing,” he said. “They had to stop the bleeding, there was no other way to do it, the leg was probably going to be lost anyway, so it was a great decision at a great time.” 

Espinosa has been teaching classes at Westland Hialeah’s health sciences magnet for the past three years. He said not everyone in the program goes on to become a paramedic or firefighter, but many do go into the medical field in some capacity.

“I just consider it a wonderful stepping stone program to kids that want to go into the medical career,” he said. On a personal level, Espinosa said teaching students to respond to emergencies is a nice change from his previous job, where being able to save a life the way Rodriguez did was a relatively rare occurrence. 

“It’s very uplifting as opposed to what I did for 25 years which, in all honesty, most of the calls didn’t end that great,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to train the next generation.”

As for Rodriguez, she’s graduating this year and plans to go away to college and continue taking first responder courses so she can become a firefighter. Rodriguez would like to eventually come back to Miami-Dade to work for one of the local fire stations. 

But for today, Rodriguez’s focus is on continuing to help Carter. On Tuesday morning, Rodriguez was honored by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho during her emergency medical responder class. Then she rushed off with Carvalho to donate blood at an emergency blood drive for Carter.

 

Thalia Rodriguez

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