High school senior Thalia Rodriguez was driving down Interstate 75 on Sunday morning on her way to do a ridealong at a Hialeah, FL, fire station when she saw a man bleeding along the roadside next to a crashed motorcycle. Her quick thinking saved the severely injured off-duty officer's life.
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, Vianca Diaz, for help and Diaz got a belt from her car. Then Rodriguez and Diaz put the tourniquet on the man's leg to stop the bleeding. (Diaz declined to comment because of privacy concerns.)
"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.
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.